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Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Peculiar Ground

Literary Fiction   Books of the Month   Family Drama   Historical Fiction   eBook Favourites   
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June 2017 Book of the Month.

A huge book both in scope and length, it begins with the journals of a landscape gardener building a great park in 1663 then moves to 1961 and follows the lives of a large group of friends and extended family up to 1989. Complex relationships, infidelities, petty betrayals, great loves play out against the grand landscape. Occasional first person inserts by different characters add a depth to the narrative and a new perspective to the situations. The writing is lovely and now and then a turn of phrase would stop me in my tracks. It is a novel of parallels, AIDS to black plague, storm to change, sanctuary to prison, spying for Russia to informing for Cromwell. The psychological aspects of a wall; is it keeping something in or keeping something out? It’s a good read, a family drama on the surface but the literary style and symbolism means there is far more depth to it. A book of layers and levels, leading to unexpected places, just as the path through hedges will suddenly open to a stunning view. It is the first novel from a renowned historian and writer of non-fiction. Great stuff. ~ Sarah Broadhurst

If you like Lucy Hughes-Hallett you might also like to read books by John Boyne, L. R. Fredericks and Ian McEwan.

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

  • Edel Waugh - 'An enchanting and haunting story for all fans of big old houses.'
  • Helen Lowry - 'I have to say, I’ve not read anything like this before...Written in a beautiful imaginative style, told in colours and then heading into the darkest tones of mankind. Her characters are moving and could be all too real.'
  • Angie Rhodes - 'Peculiar Ground is a beautiful, haunting novel that will leave the readers longing to re visit Wychwood and Wood Manor.'
  • Catherine Jenkins - 'In a book where walls play central roles, the precision of language and depth of characterisation both spurred me on to continue scaling the times and revolutions on which the story is built.'
  • Alfred Nobile - 'This is a rambling tale, with multitude characters but is written so deftly that the reader is swept along and surrounded by the story.'
  • Lisa Redmond - 'The novel is an intriguing study in landscape, manners, class and the changes in the English countryside, it twists and turns through genres from family drama to ghost story to historical fiction never quite sure where it fits.'
  • Ann Peet - 'This is a magical and appealing novel, transporting you to a beautiful place and different historical times. The writing throughout is superb'
  • Humaira Kauser - 'This book is about so many things but for one thing for sure, it is a beautiful masterpiece full of love, aristocrats, witches and more than you can imagine. '
  • Vanessa Wild - 'A beautifully written, captivating and quirkily clever tale...I absolutely loved it!  I was very sorry to turn the last page. Wychwood and its peculiar ground is well worth a visit!'
  • Beth Kemp - 'This is an epic saga in which the house is the main character...This is likely to appeal to readers with more literary historical tastes than me.'
  • Victoria Emerson - 'I loved, loved, LOVED this book...The book is beautifully written and the descriptive writing is wonderful.'
  • Samantha Lewis - 'A gorgeous novel written beautifully in a style and language usually seen in classic books...Cleverly written albeit not an easy read, you really do have to focus on the story'


Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

'Unlike anything I've read. Haunting and huge, and funny and sensuous. It's wonderful' Tessa Hadley It is the 17th century and a wall is being built around a great house. Wychwood is an enclosed world, its ornamental lakes and majestic avenues planned by Mr Norris, landscape-maker. A world where everyone has something to hide after decades of civil war, where dissidents shelter in the forest, lovers linger in secret gardens, and migrants, fleeing the plague, are turned away from the gate. Three centuries later, another wall goes up overnight, dividing Berlin, while at Wychwood, over one hot, languorous weekend, erotic entanglements are shadowed by news of historic change. A little girl, Nell, observes all. Nell grows up and Wychwood is invaded. There is a pop festival by the lake, a TV crew in the dining room and a Great Storm brewing. As the Berlin wall comes down, a fatwa signals a different ideological faultline and a refugee seeks safety in Wychwood. From the multi-award-winning author of The Pike comes a breathtakingly ambitious, beautiful and timely novel about game keepers and witches, agitators and aristocrats, about young love and the pathos of aging, and about how those who wall others out risk finding themselves walled in.


'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'

About the Author

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the author of Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions which was published in 1990 to wide acclaim, and Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen, published in 2004, which garnered similar praise. Cleopatra won the Fawcett Prize and the Emily Toth Award. Lucy Hughes-Hallett reviews for the Sunday Times. She lives in London.

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Book Info

Publication date

18th May 2017


Lucy Hughes-Hallett

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Fourth Estate Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


496 pages


Literary Fiction
Books of the Month
Family Drama
Historical Fiction
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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