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Ross Raisin: God’s Own Country (US: Out Backward)

Sam Marsdyke is a solitary eighteen-year old. He lives on a farm on the North Yorkshire Moors, with his parents. They have no other children. His father is always complaining and glum. His mother is not happy with her lot. They farm sheep, as they are on a hill. (Sam’s father envies the farmers in the valley who have dairy herds, which are more lucrative.) Sam is the narrator and he is quite likely an unreliable narrator. Sam had been at school till he was fifteen. He had been accused of the attempted rape of Katie Carmichael. He had been at school but not attending class. She had been thrown out of her classroom for misbehaviour. She had sat next to him on a wall. They had started kissing and then, at his suggestion, moved to an empty classroom. In their passion, she had banged her arms against a desk and was bruised. When a teacher caught them, he saw Katie’s bruises and Sam was accused of attempted rape and, in return for no charges being preferred, required to leave school. Since then he has worked for his father on the farm. But that is his story. If he was innocent, why did Katie not defend him? There have been other accusations, which he has denied, such as shooting Mrs. Denton’s cats. We do know him to be a violent man. Indeed, the book opens with him throwing stones from behind a wall at innocent ramblers. We will see other such behaviour later in the book.

Apart from Sam’s behaviour, one of the key themes of the book is the gentrification of the Moors. The ramblers are an example. Mr. Marsydke was friends with a neighbouring farmer called Turnbull but Turnbull has died and his house has now been sold to a family from London. After his stone-throwing episode, Sam watches the family arriving at their new house. There are the parents – Sam immediately christens Mrs. Reeves Chickenhead – and two children – a young boy and a fifteen-year old girl, Josephine (Jo), to whom Sam is immediately attracted. Sam’s clumsy way of ingratiating himself is to pick mushrooms for the family which he takes to the door – Mr. Reeves meets him in his dressing-gown. However, when the family cook and eat them, it seems that Sam had forgotten to tell them to check for maggots. A few days later, when Sam is in town, he is recognised by Jo, who speaks to him.

Sam has few interests and no friends, except for his dog. His one love is to walk on the moors, which he frequently does. The rest of the time is spent working for his father and misbehaving. Jo does come up and see him on a few occasions but he finds out that she has a boyfriend. He is jealous and tries to sabotage the relationship. Jo and Sam will gradually grow closer, particularly when she starts not going to school, which she hates and, during lambing, when she comes up to visit him at night. They grow closer though the relationship seems more of a friendship than a romantic relationship. One day, however, she comes up to him when he is watching the lambs, to announce that she has had a row with her mother and is running away. She asks Sam to help her run away.

Till Jo’s suggestion that they run away, not a great deal happens. Sam and Jo gradually get closer and the issue is, how close will they get and what will the respective parents think. We gradually learn that Sam might not be exactly what he seems, namely that there is a streak of willfulness in him that can be vicious. That he is probably not going to happily work for his father seems clear, though, of course, in real life that is probably just what he would have had to do. But then this isn’t real life. We also see the increasing gentrification and the reaction of the locals, particularly Sam and his father, to this. But Raisin writes very well so that we do not get bored, not least because we do know something is going to happen. His skill is to leave us guessing. Is Sam telling the truth or is he a misunderstood innocent?

Publishing history

First published 2008 by Viking