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Hazel

God's Own Country

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The cover, title and author name (Raisin...really?), all attracted me to this debut, plus a few good reviews. And any book that begins "Ramblers. Daft sods in pink and green hats", has got to show promise.

 

Sam Marsdyke works on his parents' farm. They are an old-school farming family; domineering workhouse for a father, and an obedient, cold matriarch. Sam, much like the pups he identifies with, is the runt. He is ostracised by the villagers for some funny business with a under-age girl and predominately just for being a bit weird.

 

Into the nearby farm, move a middle-class, urbanite family looking for some local colour and to live the 'green-dream'. The daughter is of particular interest to Sam and as we are led to believe, vice versa. Sam picks wild mushrooms as a welcoming gift, but these are filled with maggots, which tarnish the arrival and intended friendship.

 

Sam's first person narrative is much like the mushrooms. How much of trust should we put in the point of view of this boy? A boy that speaks in a dialogue pretty off-centre from Standard English? Then, everything is a little off-centre here in God's Own Country.

 

Overall, I would say that I did enjoy this debut. It's a satisfactory read and an engaging story. But it's not great...not got that something extra...I don't know if I would recommend it. It's just a story in the sense that R&J recommend stories. And sometimes, I felt the dialect was a little too much, which kind of spoiled things. Now, I know exactly...no people from this area (Yorkshire, if memory serves), so I certainly can't speak from any great authority...it's just a gut feeling, that sometimes it was a novelty device used a little too often. As if Raisin fell back on it too much. Still, it was an okay read. And definitely got better heading to the denouement.

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I've just finished this - it was a struggle, as it fizzled out for me about halfway through, despite the fact that the story arguably got more interesting. I just lost interest in the main character.

I liked the humour at the start, and the way, he, as an outsider, was a wry commentator on the pretensions of the new arrivals. That very much fizzled out as the story progressed.

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I have just finished it. It was really rather odd wasn't it?

 

Here's my review from my blog:

 

Set in Yorkshire, we meet Sam who has been expelled from school for an "incident" with a younger female pupil. Marginalised from the local community, he works on his father's farm where he talks to the animals and imagines their responses.

 

A "town" family move into a converted barn close to the farm. Sam dislikes these people who move the country looking for a better way of life. The family have a daughter and slowly, Sam and the girl get to know each other.

 

The narrative is a little slow in places, but the descriptions of the moors are beautiful and support Sam's feelings of isolation. There are also some wonderfully cutting remarks on second home coming to the country for "wellie weekends".

 

This book reminded me very much of "The Wasp Factory" By Iain Banks, it had that same dark and slightly disturbing overtone to it, although not as extreme as The Wasp Factory. Sam is clearly an outsider, but as I read the book I became increasingly confused as to whether he was a cruel person, or just a little misunderstood. The climax of the book was somewhat unexpected, and although, without giving away the ending, those who deserved punishment got what they deserved, I did feel that one person got away scott free, and that left me a little dissatisfied coupled with a general feeling of unease. There are certainly some very sinister people out there.

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Oh dear, God's Own Country promises so much but delivers so little. It has won so many awards and plaudits it even needs a separate bellyband to list them all. People have compared Ross Raisin to many great writers; compared his debut novel with so many classics. But for this reader, it was just a poor man's Butcher Boy.

Sam Marsdyke is a 19 year old farmer. He was excluded from school for having been caught in a compromising situation with a female pupil and since then he has helped his father run their farm on the Yorkshire Moors. Sam narrates the style in an idiosynctraic way. There is heavy use of dialect and Ross Raisin cites a dictionary of Yorkshire dialect at the end so we must presume the words are genuine. But they become repetitive and soon stop sounding authentic. They just don't hang together well.

Sam seems variously to have above average intelligence and to be retarded. He happily recounts local legends; understands farming process and nature in a way that goes beyond memorising facts. He feels the countryside. He also makes frequent references to other people's emotions, so he's not autistic. Yet at other times he will play with, for example, a plastic Dracula, holding him over a cliff so he can see below.

For at least the first half of the book, the narrative is a series of episodic chapters. Each chapter has one thing happening and none seems to follow on from another - there's no character or plot development, just random events. Then, half way through, things change and the remainder of the book becomes a continuous story. Sadly, not a very plausible one - one which depends on people changing their motivation and attitude half way along. If you know the ending and you know the start, you'd say you can't get there from here.

Some readers may feel that there is a legitimate use of an unreliable narrator (yawn, not again!) but Sam doesn't really seem to be that unreliable. True unreliability is done through omission or through viewing events and people through a particular lens. But for it to work, there needs to be consistency. In this case, we might imagine that Sam has given a very false impression of his relationship with key characters - particularly the neighbour's girl (Josephine, I think she was called). But the only way later events could have occurred would be if Sam's earlier narration were faithful. But if his earlier narration were faithful, then later events couldn't have happened. It all chases itself round in a circle.

God's Own Country was never compelling. After the first 20 pages, every page became more of an effort. By the end, it was all so boring, implausible and riddles with dialectic clichés. It wasn't sinister; it wasn't chilling. Sam did not make a convincing maniac. It was a bit rubbish, really.

**000

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