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Peculiar Ground: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 9, 2018
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“Thoroughly engaging…. Hughes-Hallett is a master storyteller. Her prose is a treasure—evocative, rich, engaging.” (Library Journal, starred review)
“Vast in scope but intimate in its details. A first novel stunning for both its historical sweep and its elegant prose.” (Kirkus, starred review)
“An enjoyable, sprawling epic debut…. Hughes-Hallett effectively expands the domestic drama to touch on class resentment, religious conflict, and international affairs. Her Wychwood is a remarkable, ambivalent creation… and readers will delight at strolling its grounds under her guidance.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Give this to readers who enjoy the works of A.S. Byatt.” (Booklist)
“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 Hadley)
“Peculiar Ground is so clever and beautifully written, it gripped me from start to end. I abandoned work and family to finish it.” (Roddy Doyle)
“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. There’s a calm virtuosity in the language that I admired a great deal. I just enjoyed it so very much.” (Philip Pullman)
From the Back Cover
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. At Wychwood, an erotic entanglement over one hot, 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 house is invaded: a pop festival by the lake, a television crew in the dining room, a storm brewing. In 1989, as the Cold War wanes, 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 gamekeepers 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.
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I loved the way it was written and felt it flowed well. I also loved the map at the beginning, and within minutes of reading this, I was there within the beautiful place of Wychwood and didn’t want to leave. I found I became emotionally involved very early on too.
I particularly enjoyed the chapters in the 17th century. It felt magical and mystical, with the mention of fairies and witchcraft. It also reminded me of my medieval themed wedding in 2001. I wish the Bible was written like this, as it would make my current challenge to read the whole book a lot easier and more enjoyable.
While I loved the chapters set in 1663 to 1665, I didn’t find myself falling in love with the chapters set in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. There were parts of that era I enjoyed, but I didn’t connect with the characters as well, and found myself wanting to go back in time to 1663.
If this story had remained in the 17th century, I would have given this book 5 stars. However, the more modern chapters were more of a 3 star read for me, so I’ve gone with any overall rating of 4 stars.
In my head I tend to break this novel into two parts (although the reading order is more complex). The 17th century Wychwood, and the 1970s onwards. At its heart, amongst the beauty and heartache of first love, and the magic of nature, this is a story about walls, and how the building up and tearing down of walls both separates and brings people together, and it was fantastic to see how well these stories reflected the same issues society faces today.
The story is beautifully written, Lucy Hughes-Hallett is a master of storytelling, and her way with words is stunning. However, I struggled with this book, and it was only at the end, when we returned to the 17th century that I began to enjoy it again. My problem was that, without the theme of walls being built between people (metaphorically and physically) I couldn't see how the two stories from different times melded to make one. Each was wonderful in its own way, but the pace and feel of the novel changed so much that I felt I was reading two different books.
For its beautiful and honest depiction of human life in closeted communities and the way that barring people from you can have devastating impacts, this is definitely a book to read as you'll get whisked away into Hughes-Hallett's magical world of nature, where the rituals of the past have long-lasting consequences for the future.