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Peculiar Ground

by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel eBooks of the Month Family Drama Historical Fiction Literary Fiction Modern and Contemporary Fiction

LoveReading View on Peculiar Ground

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018

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.

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

Sarah Broadhurst

Peculiar Ground Synopsis

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.

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Peculiar Ground 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 Press Reviews


'Unlike anything I've read. Haunting and huge, and funny and sensuous. It's wonderful.' Tessa Hadley

'I just enjoyed it so very much.' Philip Pullman

'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

'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.'

'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

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All versions of this book

ISBN: 9780008126544
Publication date: 08/03/2018
Publisher: Fourth Estate Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9780008126506
Publication date: 18/05/2017
Publisher: Fourth Estate Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Hardback

Book Information

ISBN: 9780008126544
Publication date: 8th March 2018
Author: Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Publisher: Fourth Estate Ltd an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 496 pages
Genres: Reader Reviewed Books, eBook Favourites, Family Drama, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Modern and Contemporary Fiction,
Categories: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945),

About 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.

More About Lucy Hughes-Hallett

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