Amanda Craig is one of my favourite writers, and her books A Vicious Circle and The Lie of the Land have featured on the blog. I have also met her both online and in real life. She is a marvellous novelist, and her books encompass modern life in a way that few people even try to do: grappling with lifestyles and morals and ethics, but always entertaining, and funny, and with the perfect details that make you close your eyes with recognition.
And – talking of recognition. Yes, she is well-known and much -appreciated. As well as producing those great books she reviews and broadcasts and – always – encourages & promotes other authors, recommends and supports, takes a stand on important issues. But the truth is she does NOT get the full recognition she deserves, and the suspicion is always that it is because she is a woman, and because she is funny. She should have national treasure status by now, and be an automatic shoo-in every prize list.
I’m just leaving that out there, because of course I want to concentrate on the positives, which are many in this truly excellent book – it has been out a year and is just now in paperback, so rush out and buy it.
The Golden Rule has a wonderful setup: two women with very different lives – but equally difficult relationships with the men they are divorcing - meet up by chance on a train heading out of London to Cornwall, and discuss the people who are making life hard for them. A jokey plan is mentioned – of course it is a joke. Isn’t it? Then we follow one of the women as events unfold… I defy anyone to start this and not want to carry on reading and find out what is going to happen. And of course I am not going to tell you too much. The plot is very clever, and contains surprises, but it is not one of those one-trick thrillers where everything is going to depend on a switcheroo twist that you spend all your time trying to anticipate. This is more of an organic book, with some great characters and an intricate and exquisite plot. It takes in more subjects than I could list here, but ranging from why people voted Brexit to computer gaming, from a toxic culture in advertising to what people get from books, from the lure of life in London to the lure of life in Cornwall.
Of course the setup is going to remind you of Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (and the Hitchcock film) – on the blog here – and embroidered into the whole of the book are clever references (for those who want to recognize them) to other books such as Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and various Agatha Christies (blog favourites, both), a touch of Pride & Prejudice. And the story of Beauty and the Beast sends tendrils throughout. It’s all done in a perfect way - not intrusive or attention-demanding: just satisfying if you know them. And – made for me – there is a really special dress for the heroine, one that is going to need another blogpost later this week – look out for it.
So obviously the book gets going very quickly, although there is always time to tell us the details of people’s lives. Hannah loves reading in a way some of us will recognize:
To sink into a story, old or new, was to enter another world of beauty, emotion, intrigue and danger, a better world in which people talked to each other about what mattered, and things happened.
Craig is always very clear about money, which is helpful and often absent in modern novels (what exactly do people mean about being ‘a bit short’ or rich, or being seriously hardup?) – but that’s because economics and the way money works are something she is looking at, and she has authentic and convincing details of life at all different strata of society.
And her books have a moral framework – not in a sermonising way but just with some serious principles behind them. Hannah thinks
It is a parent’s first duty to keep a child safe, and it is their second duty to educate us into better versions of ourselves.
And this isn’t a perception you’ll find in many books:
The Christian churches were now the last line of defence against the indifference and stupidity of successive governments of different political stripes. Frail yet resolute, they alone seemed to have a vision of how a society should treat the most vulnerable. Even as an agnostic, she was proud of them.
I totally agree with that, and wonder why religion is so little considered in modern novels. Craig truly writes about the state of the nation.
And there is this – one character says to another:
‘You’re lucky. You’re happy because you know how to be good, and you are good. Other people don’t find it as easy as you.’
This is not an uncomplicated sentiment in the context, not the answer to everything, and the response is that the other person should try being good, that it isn’t easy, it takes practice, ‘but it’s better in the long run’.
Craig always does excellent social events in her books, beautifully described. She also brings in characters from her previous novels – it is always intriguing to recognize their names and follow their paths. She is creating her own world, but at the same time she is describing the world we live in, in a detailed and wonderful way, and yes, the state of the nation.
And – of course – clothes: there is a woman in a sleeveless green dress.
Another time she is wearing white narrow linen trousers, a sleeveless top and a jacket ‘so fine it almost floated as she walked’, a wide straw hat and black sunglasses, necklace and earrings.
And look out for a post on an even more special outfit later in the week.
Top Green Linen midi dress from Etsy, other pics from various fashion sources.