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.
Reviews of Peculiar Ground
‘A rich layering of history and fiction … Erudite, elegant but easy-going … One of the best novels of the year so far’ The Times
‘Extraordinarily accomplished … absolutely involving, thanks to beautiful description and a very fine understanding of human emotion … Tolstoyan in its sly wit and descriptive brilliance … Humane, thoughtful, compelling and packed with magic, this is a remarkable achievement’ Guardian
‘So clever and beautifully written, it gripped me from start to end. I abandoned work and family to finish it’ Roddy Doyle
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’ Tessa Hadley
‘Hughes-Hallett’s ambitious first novel dances between past and present, history and modernity … magically and movingly evoked, and remains in the imagination long after the reader passes beyond its gates’ New Statesman
‘Ambitious and accomplished … a polyphonic narrative … rich with detail … leaves you hoping that this late conversion to fiction will prove only the beginning’ Observer
‘A sensual meditation on the nature of paradise’ Mail on Sunday
‘A teeming, heaving whirligig of a novel… Hughes-Hallett retains terrific control of her subject matter in a novel beautifully alert to the repeating patterns of personal and political history’ Daily Mail
‘Happy, tragic, ever expanding and literally ground-breaking’ Spectator
‘Characters to get involved with, stories to follow – perfect to get lost in’ Woman & Home
‘That rare thing: a fresh classic. Ambitious, satisfying and mature, Peculiar Ground is spellbinding’ Country Life
‘Richly imagined, impressively detailed … admirably ambitious and well written … original and intriguing’ Sunday Times
‘Richly evocative’ Tatler
‘Elegant, inventive, mystical’ Daily Telegraph