Summary and book reviews of Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Peculiar Ground

by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett X
Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
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  • Published:
    Jan 2018, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cynthia C. Scott

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About this Book

Book Summary

The Costa Award-winning author of The Pike makes her literary fiction debut with an extraordinary historical novel in the spirit of Wolf Hall and Atonement - a great English country house novel, spanning three centuries, that explores surprisingly timely themes of immigration and exclusion.

It is the seventeenth century and a wall is being raised around Wychwood, transforming the great house and its park into a private realm of ornamental lakes, grandiose gardens, and majestic avenues designed by Mr. Norris, a visionary landscaper. In this enclosed world everyone has something to hide after decades of civil war. Dissenters shelter in the woods, lovers rendezvous in secret enclaves, and outsiders - migrants fleeing the plague - find no mercy.

Three centuries later, far away in Berlin, another wall is raised, while at Wychwood, an erotic entanglement over one sticky, languorous weekend in 1961 is overshadowed by news of historic change. Young Nell, whose father manages the estate, grows up amid dramatic upheavals as the great house is invaded: a pop festival by the lake, a television crew in the dining room, a Great Storm brewing. In 1989, as the Cold War peters out, a threat from a different kind of conflict reaches Wychwood's walls.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett conjures an intricately structured, captivating story that explores the lives of game keepers and witches, agitators and aristocrats; the exuberance of young love and the pathos of aging; and the way those who try to wall others out risk finding themselves walled in. With poignancy and grace, she illuminates a place where past and present are inextricably linked by stories, legends, and history - and by one patch of peculiar ground.

Excerpt
Peculiar Ground

I had never been inside a theatre then. Perhaps otherwise I might have judged the play, or masque, or ballet (I hardly know what to call it) more stringently. But there is an especial piquancy in seeing one's friends play-acting. They are recognisably themselves, but they are also strange. The doubleness is at once frightening and delicious, like conversing with a friend standing behind one's back, while watching her face in a looking-glass.

My cousin sat majestically enthroned in the centre of the audience, shining like the pale spring sun in his silvery silks. His wife was beside him until, mid-way through the show, she rose, cast aside her mantle and, walked onto the stage, transforming herself as she did so from great lady to adventurous libertine. The audience – both the gentry seated in tiered rows around the amphitheatre and hoi polloi (myself among them) standing behind to peer through the arches of the pergola - seemed alike to ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

At 446 pages long, the novel can be very exacting in its determination to lay out its themes, following a cast of characters as they fall in and out of love, marry, divorce, grow up, become parents, and bury loved ones. It is beautifully written and smartly observed, but the book gets bogged down in parts. Readers are rewarded with themes that are as relevant today as they were hundreds of years ago. Peculiar Ground offers a glimmer of possibilities for how lives without borders might actually be lived.   (Reviewed by Cynthia C. Scott).

Full Review Members Only (573 words).

Media Reviews

Booklist

Give this to readers who enjoy the works of A. S. Byatt.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The novel is a pleasure to read for the loveliness of its language. It's also a timely meditation on walls, on what they keep in and what they keep out. A first novel stunning for both its historical sweep and its elegant prose.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This book is already a hit overseas and will be here, too. History lovers, but even more, lovers of good fiction, will gobble it up.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A first novel stunning for both its historical sweep and its elegant prose.

The Guardian

Hughes-Hallett marshals her large cast with sensitivity, succeeding in making even her minor players invite empathy. The fragmentary, non-linear style that made The Pike [a biography of Gabriele D'Annunzio] so original also works well here to create a polyphonic narrative, and she has a sharp ear for dialogue that allows her characters to sound distinctive and convincing, though I found myself most immersed in the 1663 sections, which are recounted by a single voice.

The Guardian

Hughes-Hallett marshals her large cast with sensitivity, succeeding in making even her minor players invite empathy. The fragmentary, non-linear style that made The Pike [a biography of Gabriele D'Annunzio] so original also works well here to create a polyphonic narrative, and she has a sharp ear for dialogue that allows her characters to sound distinctive and convincing, though I found myself most immersed in the 1663 sections, which are recounted by a single voice.

The New Statesman

At times these larger questions can overwhelm the narrative. As the book progresses we dance between a succession of many voices, and there are moments when their individual stories are less compelling than the political or historical situations that surround them. But perhaps that is the point.

The Spectator

This happy, tragic, ever expanding and literally groundbreaking story focuses mainly on the ambiguous nature of walls. Has Mr. Norris created a prison or a paradise? Do present-day prisoners sometimes dread their release? It also raises more amusing questions. Are pheasants really bad astronauts? What secrets lie in the ground beneath us? Can too much sex really contort a writer's syntax?

Author Blurb Tessa Hadley
Unlike anything I've read. With its broad scope and its intimacy and exactness, it cuts through the apparatus of life to the vivid moment. Haunting and huge, and funny and sensuous. It's wonderful.

Author Blurb Roddy Doyle
Peculiar Ground is so clever and beautifully written, it gripped me from start to end. I abandoned work and family to finish it.

Author Blurb Philip Pullman
Lucy Hughes-Hallett's novel is immensely vivid, full of rich and deeply imagined life, and glowing with energy. Her Wychwood estate is utterly real, her characters (both seventeenth- and twentieth-century) entirely convincing, and the story moves with a masterful assurance.

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Beyond the Book

Chastleton House

The Wychwood of Lucy Hughes-Hallett's novel Peculiar Ground, an English estate built in the 1600s, sets the stage for the personal intrigues of characters spanning several centuries and generations. Secluded from the rest of the public, the estate and its enclosed garden are also symbols of social divisions and how they often trap people. Though Hughes-Hallett based Wychwood on a garden she often visited in Oxfordshire, she took liberties with certain details to make it her own.

An example of a typical English garden of that era can be found at Chastleton House near Moreton-in-Marsh, Oxfordshire. Chastleton House is a remote estate that was built between 1607 and 1612, for Walter Jones, who came from a family of successful wool ...

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