Town and country, turmoil and crime

Amanda Craig's new novel is really three books in one, says Keren David


Amanda Craig’s last novel, Hearts and Minds, dissected the multi-layered, interconnected social strata of London. Her newest  The Lie of the Land takes a quintessentially middle-class London family — the Bredins, reeking of entitlement and squabbling bitterly — and plonks them in a sea of rural mud and misery. They suffer, most entertainingly, and Craig turns her analytical gaze to the countryside.

“Most Jews hate the countryside, for perfectly understandable historical reasons but, when they don’t, they seem to love it more than the English” we are told in the narrative. South African Naomi is the latter kind of Jew. Her pride in her adopted Devon includes its cheeses and its winds. But her obnoxious son Quentin is a country-hating sort of Jew (or quasi-Jew, as this is the only Jewish thing about him). London to him is vastly superior to the rest of the country: “more confident, more tolerant, more civilised, more enterprising and more beautiful.”

The prospect of moving out to the sticks with his family horrifies him. They are doing it out of economic necessity — Quentin and his wife Lottie have both been made redundant, and a sluggish property market means they can’t afford the divorce they crave. Naomi suggests they rent a nearby farmhouse, neglecting to mention that the rent is affordable because it was the scene of a distinctly nasty and as yet unsolved murder.

The Lie of the Land is three books in one. Firstly, the biting social comedy of the ghastly Bredins dealing with the loss of their urban privilege: Quentin “views the London property market as a kind of magical force in his life which has made him, alongside anyone else who bought a home there in the 1980s, rich beyond his wildest dreams.” Lottie’s son Xan is convinced his life is ruined because, for the loss of an A*, he has missed his place at Cambridge. And his half-sister Stella, aged about 10, a pupil at a prep school “notorious for super-achievers” quotes Shakespeare and has taught herself French. Craig piles troubles on them all but, as the book progresses, they grow up and change and the reader starts to root for them.

Then there is the depiction of rural society, with its close-knit social circles, its emigrant workforce and a pie factory that is a vision of hell: Craig gives us the real countryside, not the place of popular imagination — “a place of recreation, in which food is produced in Elysian fields of buttercups from happy hens and immortal herds.”

And, finally, the whodunnit: this provides an ingenious plot and a literally breathtaking denouement.

Whether you are urban or rural, there is much here to keep you engrossed; often with a wince of self-awareness.

The Lie of the Land is published by Little, Brown (£16.99) 

Keren David is the JC’s arts and features editor

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