“The Lie of the Land” – “Who least hath some; who most hath never all”

This is a review of The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig

Unable to accept her journalist husband Quentin’s philandering, architect Lottie’s desire for a divorce are scuppered by the financial crisis which leaves them both unemployed, and the value of their London home falling fast. Her solution is to rent it out, and uproot her three children to a surprisingly cheap house in the depths of rural Devon for a year, with the penniless Quentin in tow, tolerated only for his strong bond with their two daughters, precocious Stella and Rosie, and for his culinary skills.

It is of course much more plausible that Lottie would move into in her mother’s large six million pound London house, where she lived for years as the single mother of Xan before falling for Quentin, that she would get some kind of employment, and boot Quentin out. The relocation in Devon is simply a device for an exploration of family relationships and of our fractured society in C21, with a slow-burn murder mystery flickering away in the background. The pampered Xan begins to learn how the other half lives through his night shifts at Humbles pie factory, which will seriously make me think twice about ever buying a ready-made meat pie again. Quentin is brought to reconsider his attitude to life by the slow and painful death of his father – a gifted but underestimated poet and brilliant teacher, but also vicious-tongued and a flagrant, serial adulterer, to provide a life-time excuse for Quentin to follow suit.

Although the family members are quite well-developed as personalities, I agree with reviewers who describe the characters in general as stereotyped. Despite the carefully revealed plot, I found aspects of the denouement quite unconvincing or flawed, not to mention a point which bothered me more – a kind of ethical double standard in which it seems that men should be punished for lying, but women should be allowed their secrets.

I liked the wry humour, was impressed by the amount of wide-ranging topical social comment the author managed to shoe-horn in without sounding too contrived, and was continually struck by the vivid visual descriptions of a rural Devon through the changing seasons which she clearly knows well. “Frosts turn long grass the colour of old hair,”….”A veil of rain hangs in the west”…..at one point “flocculent clouds” are even “herded by the moon”. I also have to thank the author for introducing me to Robert Southwell’s wonderful C16 poem “Times Go by Turns” which begins, “The loppèd tree in time will grow again” ending, “Who least, hath some; who most, hath never all”.

Occasionally, paragraphs seem disconnected from the text, as if there has been a lack of editing after removing or altering a previous passage. The novel also sometimes feels a little too wordily repetitive and over-long.

Despite some reservations and disappointment at the end, I found this tragi-comedy a page-turner, likely to prove an absorbing yarn for a long journey or a wet week-end.

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