God's Own Country
by Ross Raisin
Set against a stunningly evoked background of the Yorkshire moors, GOD’S OWN COUNTRY is an intriguing debut novel. In fact, it’s the moors that stay with you after reading, almost as if they have a character of their own. They spread out ‘like a mighty beer stain soaking through a carpet,’ and are ever-present in the story, looming like an ominous stormy sky.
The main protagonist in the novel leaves a similarly eerie, if more ephemeral, impression. Sam Marsdyke, is a farmer’s son, expelled from school after accusations of a sex attack, and mistrusted by the residents of his local village ever since. When a family of ‘towns’ (the yuppies who have invaded the village) move in next door, Sam’s relationship with their daughter goes from awkward teen-aged flirtation to ambiguous adventure on the moors. A situation not unlike the movie, Badlands - only very much rainier, and less consensual.
Even if the dynamic of this pairing is at times not 100% convincing, Raisin can be forgiven as the writing is so good. There is a haunting, lyrical quality to the book, and it is steeped in evocative imagery. Equally successful is the author’s understated use of Yorkshire dialect: just enough so that we soak up the local atmosphere; not so much that he uses jarring ‘ey oop lasses’ and the like. Sense of place might just be the book’s strongest point.
There are also moments of comic brilliance. On Marsdyke’s cynical reaction to the ‘towns,’ for instance, Raisin’s timing is as spot on as a stand-up’s. Another ingredient, suspense, is less successful ebbing away at the book’s climax when it perhaps should be gearing up a notch; the plot doesn’t so much thicken as turn into a fine drizzle.
Still, Marsdyke’s voice as a troubled loner is convincing and a stunningly good and memorable descriptive style is at play here. No wonder that critics heaped an avalanche of praise on Raisin on the book’s publication and GOD’S OWN COUNTRY won two first book awards… Not bad for a writer under the age of thirty.
Recommended, especially for those who love the poetry of Britain’s Northern landscapes.
Nina de la Mer