Peculiar ground A novel

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Book - 2018

"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." -- Amazon.com.

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Subjects
Genres
Historical fiction
Published
New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2018]
Edition
First U.S. edition
Language
English
Item Description
"Originally published in Great Britain in 2017 by 4th Estate." -- Title page verso.
Physical Description
xi, 446 pages : maps ; 24 cm
ISBN
0062684191
9780062684196
Main Author
Lucy Hughes-Hallett (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Hughes-Hallett's ambitious novel begins in 1663. The British monarchy has been restored after years of civil war. Norris, a landscape designer, arrives at Wychwood to refashion the gardens and oversee the construction of a wall that will completely enclose the grounds. Much of Norris' design still stands 300 years later, when Wychwood is a sanctuary (or, as one character puts it, "a sanctuary and a place of internment") for a new generation, the generally upper-class "Wychwood stalwarts," whose lives Hughes-Hallett traces from 1961 to 1989. Also on hand are characters descended from the estate workers of Norris' time, in tune with the past and Wychwood's attendant legends. Witchcraft, ancient Roman mosaics, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, and the stirrings of Islamic fundamentalism all come into play amid themes of continuity and change and the author's frequent use of water as a symbol. The novel's final section returns the reader to 1665, when Wychwood is seen as a refuge against the plague. Give this to readers who enjoy the works of A. S. Byatt. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for The Pike: Gabriele D'Annunzio, Hughes-Hallett received sparkling reviews in the UK for this fiction debut. It opens with the 17th-century construction of a great house named Wychwood, whose high walls shelter the inhabitants after decades of bloody civil strife. Jump forward to the last half of the 20th century, with the Berlin Wall rising and falling even as Wychwood's current inhabitants try to deny the real world. Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The Costa Award-winning author of The Pike makes her literary fiction debut with a thoroughly engaging novel about people in two different ages but in one place. The times are 1663–65 and 1961–89, both periods of wrenching change. In 1663, good King Charles II is newly restored to his throne; the Puritans are ousted. In 1961, Puritan attitudes are taking it on the chin; even monogamy suffers. By 1989, another generation has taken over, homosexuality is no longer taboo, and the Berlin Wall falls. Dozens of people populate these pages, shaping the narrative, but there is another player. The great manor of Wychwood and its landmarks play key roles throughout. Family names persist across three centuries among the estate's servitors and tenants. The many stories in this wonderful book are all variations on the theme of change and of the holding power of place over transient circumstance. Hughes-Hallett (Gabriele D'Anunzio) is a master storyteller. Her prose is a treasure—evocative, rich, engaging. VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 7/31/17.]—David Keymer, Cleveland Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Author of an acclaimed biography of the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, Hughes-Hallet offers an enjoyable, sprawling epic debut about an enclosed paradise. Populated by a large cast, its subject is singular: Wynchwood, a lavish English country estate that weathers centuries of upheavals, from civil war to its transformation into a theme park for the aristocrat-obsessed. The novel concentrates on two historical eras. The 17th-century scenes, which bookend the novel, focus on John Norris, a prim landscape architect with extravagant Eden-like visions for the estate. Magnificent though his designs may be, the outside world creeps in, notably in the form of tragic accidents and the plague that ravaged England in 1665. These sections, which include flourishes of historical and cultural detail (witchcraft, folklore, secret religious sects), paint a vivid picture. The novel's middle episodes, which check in on the fast-living set congregating at Wynchwood during key moments throughout the Cold War, are the highlight: consistently witty, they are reminiscent of another country house saga, Alain Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child. Hughes-Hallett effectively expands the domestic drama to touch on class resentment, religious conflict, and international affairs. Her Wynchwood is a remarkable, ambivalent creation, "at once a sanctuary and place of internment," and readers will delight at strolling its grounds under her guidance. (Jan.) Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Years after a grand English country estate is enclosed within a great wall, the daughter of the estate's manager comes of age amid dramatic upheavals shaped by family legends and the historical events of the mid-to-late twentieth century.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Years after a grand English country estate is enclosed within a great wall, the daughter of the estate's manager comes of age amid dramatic upheavals shaped by family legends and the historical events of the mid-to-late 20th century. By the award-winning author of The Pike. 25,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A Kirkus Best Book of 2018"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."'tessa HadleyThe 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.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

A Kirkus Best Book of 2018"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."—Tessa HadleyThe 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.