God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin
27 June, 2012
When Claire picked God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin for our book group, I admit I groaned inwardly a little. I know, it’s been shortlisted for several prizes and won the Betty Trask Prize in 2008 and that Ross Raisin is one of Britain’s up and coming writers. And yet, God’s Own Country is about a young farmer in Yorkshire who meets a townie and then things happen. Reminded me a little of Emmerdale which I don’t watch on telly. But still, I had snagged myself a copy of the book at last year’s Penguin’s Blogger’s Event and had been meaning to read it.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong. For a slim debut novel, God’s Own Country is solidly weighted with measured prose and an extremely assured and confident voice. In Sam Marsdyke, Raisin has created an anti-hero who is simultaneously horrific and yet so vulnerable that you just want to shake the adults around him for misunderstanding the lankenstein.
When a middle-class family from London moves into the farmhouse next to the Marsdykes to play country-time, Sam is curious, especially when he spies their beautiful adolescent daughter, Josephine. Soon, he forms a tentative friendship with her much to the chagrin of both sets of parents, especially his. Sam’s pretty much led a solitary existance under the watchful eyes of his parents, helping out on the farm after leaving school for assaulting a classmate. So when Josephine wants Sam to her help her run away, he jumps at the chance. And so what starts off as an adventure into an unknown future quickly turns into a nightmare of gothic proportions.
Raisin’s genius is in keeping the humour, especially Sam’s thoughts, all the while as we see Sam’s future slowly closing in upon him. What could have become so dark and hellish is kept light, almost dream-like, without actually forfeiting the seriousness of what is happening. Sam is deluded. Sam needs help. The girl really needs to get away from Sam. And yet, you can’t help but feel for Sam and wish he would just wake up. But he doesn’t and the ending is chilling.
I am utterly impressed in the way in which Raisin has pulled off this story. It’s a pretty straightforward tale, there’s nothing new or surprising. And yet, he makes it seem fresh. I don’t think I’ve read a tale set in the Moors quite like this one since Wuthering Heights. In fact this is one of my surprise hits of the year so far, it’s that brilliant. And so I will be getting myself a copy of his next novel, Waterline, which is about shipbuilding, another subject that doesn’t particularly tickle my fancy and yet I’m sure with which he’ll just dazzle me.
Do also check out Kim’s review about God’s Own Country.