‘God’s Own Country’ by Ross Raisin

This is the book I read in anticipation of attending Radio 4 Book Club, and I’ll admit without that deadline I might not have persevered with it.  Having said that, I did enjoy reading it, and, as if proving that talking about books is a force for good, it grew on me as the discussion with Ross Raisin progressed in the BBC studio.

Teenager Sam Marsdyke spends his days roaming the moors watching his father’s sheep, playing with Sal, his favourite from a litter of puppies, and throwing rocks at ramblers in their ridiculously jolly coloured gortex.  Even his mother describes him as having ‘come out backwards’, and he’s already an outcast in his own community after an altercation with a girl at school.

Told in the first person, we’re never quite sure how much of the descriptions of events we can trust.  Sam has his own view of the world, and it is often at odds with that of the people around him, so instead of talking to them, Sam often talks to animals and inanimate objects.

When a family from the town move into the adjacent farmhouse, and Sam catches sight of the young daughter when he is spying through their windows, the scene is set for an escalating series of events which will confuse Sam and turn him towards violence.

His susceptibility to sudden bursts of violence is established early in the novel with two rather unpleasant scenes.  When I read the first couple of chapters I did wonder if the author wasn’t testing my mettle for what was to come, but while the dramatic ante rose subsequently, there wasn’t an increase in nasty description.

The language of the book is very particular, and I was interested in how that has been calibrated.  There is a strong North Yorkshire tone, but this is given by use of local vocabulary, some of which may have been made up, rather than in non standard spelling.  Only when Sam’s father speaks do we see ’em, t’ and wi’.

There are no speech marks, and sometimes no splitting of conversations into new lines for separate speakers, making sometimes for a dense read.  This all adds to the questions in the reader’s mind over what is really happening as opposed to what Sam wants you to believe.

It is Sam’s story, and everything is through his eyes, so many of the other characters are seen only in snippets, so you have to look hard for clues about his family background and his parents.  His mother seems kind hearted if a bit ineffectual, while his father is a looming presence, who seems to be an object of fear and resentment, a person who wears out things and animals.

The book jacket promises humour, but this element rather passed me by, however as a sympathetic portrait of a person who will be vilified by society, it’s a worthwhile read.

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