In the 17th century, a wall is built around the deer park of a great house. Wychwood is a world in itself, its ornamental lakes and majestic avenues planned by Mr Norris, a master of the new art of landscaping. A world where, after decades of civil war, everyone has something to hide or something to fear, where dissidents hide in the forest and Londoners fleeing the plague are at the gate.
Three centuries later, one hot weekend, there is a house party at Wychwood. Over the course of the weekend another wall goes up, dividing Berlin. Erotic entanglements blur with distant rumours of historic changes and a little girl, Nell, observes all.
As Nell grows up and as the Berlin Wall falls, the world splits again. There are TV cameras in the dining room, golf-buggies in the park and a Great Storm brewing. A fatwa alerts Westerners to a new ideological faultline. A refugee from the new conflict, the one which is still tearing us apart, seeks safety in Wychwood.
From the author of The Pike, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize, the Costa Biography Award, comes a feast of a book. Peculiar Ground is a breathtakingly ambitious, beautifully written novel about young love and the pathos of aging, about game keepers and aristos, agitators and witches, about fantasies of magic and the reality of the land, and about frontiers and fortresses and secret gardens.
Peculiar Ground is a wonderfully descriptive and enchanting story.
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.
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