QUENTIN and Lottie face a very modern dilemma in The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig (Little, Brown, £16.99 (£15.30); 978-1-40870-0). They want to divorce, but can’t sell their London house for enough to buy a flat each. As the recession has claimed both their jobs, the only answer is to let the house and move to darkest Devon for a year until prices rise.
As both a health visitor and a sheep-farmer’s wife, Sally Verity, happily married but sadly childless, sees the countryside’s dark underbelly. Lottie’s mixed-race teenage son Xan, his life blighted for ever, he believes, by failing to make his grades for Cambridge, gets a zero-hours contract at a local pie factory.
There are mysteries. Why is the family’s farmhouse rented so cheaply despite its space and lovely views; and why can their cleaner’s lumpen daughter, Xan’s colleague on the night shift, play the piano so beautifully?
As ever with one of Craig’s novels, readers find themselves parachuted into a different universe. Like Dickens before her, she has done her research, and is concerned to show us how this world actually is, and what a supermarket’s cheap food costs in human terms.
She conveys passion — Quentin’s for journalism and the pleasure of using his sharp mind; Lottie’s for architecture and the act of creation, and the frustration of losing job, status, and income that come with it.
A perceptive psychologist, Craig explores the dynamics of two marriages, the happy and the fractured, to show us why long unions work, or do not. Above all, she creates complex characters, and handles them with great sympathy. We may feel that Quentin is beyond redemption, and that Xan should just pull himself together; she does not, and we soon care about them as much as she does. It’s a meaty and absorbing novel, which lingers with you long after it comes to an end.
Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.