Peculiar Ground

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

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

  • ‘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

    Praise for The Pike:

    ‘Hard to beat … a biographical tour de force … a rich, voluptuous treat … a triumph, the biography of the year’ Robert McCrum, Observer, ‘Books of the Year’

    ‘[The Pike] dramatically extends biography’s formal range to encompass a daunting theme’ TLS, ‘Books of the Year’

    ‘This is a magnificent portrait of a preposterous character … deplorable, brilliant, ludicrous, tragic but above all irresistible, as hundreds of women could testify. His biographer has done him full justice’ Francis Wheen, Daily Mail

    ‘A cracker of a biography, an extraordinary story … In less skilled hands this could have been a disaster; in fact it works wonderfully well’ Spectator, ‘Books of the Year’

    ‘Beautiful, strange and original … an extraordinarily intimate portrait’ New Statesman

    ‘Hugely enjoyable … Hughes-Hallett has a great talent for encapsulating an era or an attitude …That almost 700 pages flew by bears testimony to how pleasurable and readable those pages were’ Sunday Times

    ‘Hughes-Hallett dances her way through this extraordinary life in a style that is playful, punchy and generally pleasing …The amazing story of D’Annunzio is painted in primary colours, but with the darkest shadows’ Observer

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