Miranda France - Hill Farm (4 stars)

Rural drama is a lot better than the blurb would have you believe

Hill Farm

‘It was the summer that everything changed’ the dust jacket intones. For farmer’s wife Isabel Hayes (mid-thirties, with three children, adventureless in a small farming community and a stale marriage), something had to give. We are promised ‘a handsome farmhand, a death-watch beetle, a ylang-ylang scented blossom, a lost hedgerow, a disused water tank’; based on this litany, one might be forgiven for expecting little more than a 2D tale of unbridled passion in the hay. Worse, we might not pick it up at all.

There’s no great surprise in the handsome farmhand’s effect upon Isabel but the reader is simultaneously shocked and thrilled by the underplayed heart-stilling horror. Miranda France has minutely drawn a farming community, and a broken woman, with excellent skill. She is superb at plucking comedy from tragedy, as well as exhibiting a wry authorial narrative that must owe more than a little to Jane Austen. She manages to square this lightness of tone with a subtle tale full of secrecy, betrayal and fear that keeps you clinging on right to the very end.

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