The Lie of the Land, Amanda Craig’s seventh novel, doesn’t fit a particular genre. A mix of black comedy, whip-smart social satire and psychological suspense, this tale of a highly dysfunctional family is enthralling, insightful and immensely readable.
Quentin and Lottie Bredin are in an all too familiar bind. They’ve both lost their jobs, their marriage is in tatters and they can’t afford to divorce. They can’t sell their north London house either, which is why Lottie hits on the idea of letting it out and renting a farmhouse in the wilds of Devon.
The brilliantly drawn Quentin, a rackety freelance journalist who must be hell to live with, isn’t convinced. While Lottie is apparently thrilled with their new home, Quentin sees it as “the kind of thing that fools in the city think is picturesque, but which anyone with experience of country life knows is riddled with rot, rats, bats and beams”.
He’s right of course, but the Bredins don’t have much choice. They move lock, stock and barrel to the countryside, together with their two young daughters and Lottie’s 18-year-old son Xan, who’s just missed his grades for Cambridge and is appalled at the prospect of leaving London.
The only unconvincing part of the novel is their lack of research about their new home. Lottie doesn’t question for a second why their landlord is charging such a low rent. In this day and age surely they would do a bit of detective work before they booked the removal vans? But Lottie doesn’t bother with Google and only discovers later that a man has suffered a murderous end there. Not only that, the story was splashed across the tabloids because the house belongs to an ageing rock star called Gore Tor.
That quibble aside, Craig skilfully depicts the Bredins’ struggle to settle in Devon and, despite their antipathy towards each other, exist under the same roof. She knows the area well, describing it in her acknowledgements as “a county and countryside I have loved ever since I came to it as a child”, and conveys its complexity with astuteness and flair. While the landscape is stunning, it also hides a myriad of problems – poverty, abuse, unhappiness and violence. Xan is in for a rude awakening when he gets a zero-hours contract at a local pie factory – the descriptions of the assembly line will put you off pies for life – and sees the locals’ struggles at first hand.
I very much enjoyed Craig’s last novel, Hearts and Minds, which was longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and The Lie of the Land is just as good.
The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig (Little, Brown, £16.99)