Wednesday 28 February 2024

Review by Beth Gaylard of "God's Country" by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

‘Landscape is a cauldron for Kerry Hadley-Pryce’s intensely creepy and evocative writing’ (Georgina Bruce, Black Static). This blurb on the front cover of God’s Country should act as a warning, not just about the nature of the book, but the character of the setting – her own setting, the Black Country. Of the book, she says: ‘I think it contains part of my own DNA …  It’s the paths I have walked.’ Of the landscape, she writes ‘there was more than just a smell about this place, there was a proper feel of it that she hadn’t expected. There was a stillness of air inside there that seemed to hold something primitive.’

If you are expecting that this ‘cauldron,’ a rural farm, will produce a novel resembling a wholesome soup or a nourishing stew, think again, because before you know it you are drawn (through the protagonist, Alison) into a family nightmare that you desperately, fervently want to end well, if only it can. Alison has just undergone a traumatic event which she cannot share, for the moment at least, and the whole book is told from her unsettled point of view. Her physical pain and discomfort – she is beset by a migraine all the way through the book, almost a character in its own right, and the weirdness of the migraine experience mirrors the disjointed personalities of other characters that she meets.

The family is not hers but her boyfriend Guy’s, and they are making their way to the Black Country farm where he grew up with his twin brother Ivan, who has finally died after a long illness. Their father, known only as Flood, is the God of God’s Country, an implacably cruel man who has somehow managed to destroy all his family as well as the farm. As soon as they reach their destination it is obvious that Guy hasn’t told Alison all the secrets it holds. 

The narrative unfolds in a convoluted version of the conditional tense which addresses the reader directly, allowing an omniscient point of view and implying that some kind of interview with Alison will take place at a point in the future, after the end of the story. This stylistic device works surprisingly well, allowing the reader to see beyond the end of the story and enabling the unknown narrator to address the reader directly and at a distance: ‘She’ll say she wants to tell you this story, and in the act of telling it, she knows she’ll probably leave some gaps, but in the act of you reading it, you’ll give it shape.’

God’s Country is an important contribution to those strands of literature that bring landscape to life, but it is also compelling and unpredictable, as it unfolds past secrets which continue to affect a family in thrall to its most powerful member. One of the best reads this year.

About the reviewer
Beth Gaylard is a PhD student of Creative Writing, currently in her write-up period. Her topic is solastalgia in rural England. She has a self-published speculative fiction novel, Firebrands, on Kindle. She lives in Leicestershire.

You can read more about God's Country by Kerry Hadley-Pryce on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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