Amanda Craig’s The Golden Rule is the latest in a series of loosely interconnected novels which explore the state of my particular nation. I’m a sucker for this kind of fiction and have enjoyed several of Craig’s contributions to it including The Lie of the Land, a Brexit novel that, for me, was very much better than Jonathan Coe’s Costa Award-winning, Middle England, and I’m a Coe fan. This new one follows Hannah who strikes a shocking bargain with a stranger she meets on a train, echoing Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock.
Hannah and Jake met at university, both studying literature – one from a Cornish working-class background, the other distinctly posh. Hannah spent her childhood reading, a love fostered by her single mother’s bookselling friend. Her ideas about love and relationships took a battering with the discovery of the controlling, abusive Jake’s infidelity. Hannah gave up her career in advertising five years ago to look after their daughter and is now reduced to cleaning to keep herself and Maisy afloat. When she’s summoned to Cornwall to say goodbye to her dying mother, she scrapes together the funds for the ticket and boards the train to St Piran, cramming herself into a standing-room-only carriage. Through the door she spots an elegant, beautiful woman sitting in a first-class compartment who beckons her in. As if in a dream, Hannah joins her and before long they’ve swapped stories. It seems that Jinni is also in the midst of an acrimonious divorce and has a somewhat unorthodox solution. Why don’t they kill each other’s husbands? Over the summer spent in Cornwall, clearing her mother’s council house, Hannah is faced with constant reminders of this bargain as she finds herself in surprising employment.
She lived between two worlds, at ease in neither
Craig’s overarching theme is division. The gender divide of Hannah and Jake’s divorce, intergenerational division and the regional and economic inequality that led to a decision that split the nation almost, but not quite, in half four years ago, are adroitly and compassionately explored. It’s all cleverly done as Hannah battles with Jake, travelling between London and Cornwall, itself divided into the rich second-homers and those who service them, unable to afford homes for themselves. As ever, Craig incorporates all this into the backdrop for a thoroughly satisfying story, neatly avoiding stereotypes by regularly overturning preconceptions. The thread of suspense is slim, but this is a book all about its characters and the way they fit together rather than solving a mystery although there is a pleasing twist or two. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Intelligent, thought-provoking writing wrapped up in an immersive piece of storytelling, it’s one to think about packing in your holiday suitcase should you be doing such a thing this year.
Little, Brown: London 2020 9781408711521 400 pages Hardback