Peculiar Ground is the first novel from award winning biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett and it is a huge and ambitious tale set in one place with narrators and timelines spanning three hundred years. The novel opens with the voice of landscaper Mr Norris as he navigates his way through the vagaries of Restoration society as those who supported the King replace those who favoured Cromwell. Wychwood is witnessing its own restoration as the Earl of Woldingham and his family reclaim their lands from their cousins the Rivers. Mr Norris describes oppositions of class, religion, politics and values as well as the Fortescue’s tragic loss of their son. The loss of a child is echoed in the second section set in 1960s when we visit the Rossiters and the Lanes and there are further conflicts for those living at Wychwood as the villagers demand the right to roam and use the ancient pathways. While on the wider stage the cold war and the Berlin Wall are the news of the day. The novel is an intriguing study in landscape, manners, class and the changes in the English countryside it twists and turns through genres from family drama to ghost story to historical fiction never quite sure where it fits. While the story telling is well paced and the characters interesting the use of multiple narrators can drag the story down and convolute the tale. There are at times too many actors on the stage. A book full of interesting people and details but sadly it didn’t quite capture me.
Published by 4th Estate on May 18th. Thanks to the publisher and lovereading.co.uk for a review copy.