Author, Book review, England, Fiction, literary fiction, Penguin, Publisher, Ross Raisin, Setting

‘God’s Own Country’ by Ross Raisin


Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 211 pages; 2009.

Ross Raisin’s debut novel, God’s Own Country, is about a troubled young Yorkshire farmer who develops a friendship with a teenage girl and runs away with her. It turns the notion of pastoral literature on its head, and is a compelling mix of adventure, Gothic romance and black comedy. Mostly, it is a very disturbing and unsettling read.

No ordinary man

The story is narrated by 19-year-old Sam Marsdyke, who lives on the family farm with his mum and dad. From the outset, we know that Sam is not an ordinary young man — he delights in throwing stones at ramblers, whom he describes as “daft sods”. Later, we learn that he despises “towns”, those people who move from the city to live in rural Yorkshire, because “they couldn’t give a stuff for the Moors, all they wanted was a postcard view out of the bedroom window”.

There are other, darker, elements to his character, which the reader discovers the further you get into the novel (I won’t mention them here, to prevent spoiling the plot, suffice to say they are quite shocking). And as the narrative slowly unfolds, so, too, does Sam’s hold on reality.

And while there’s a menacing undertone to this book, Sam is sympathetically drawn. He has a deep love of the countryside (the descriptions of the moors are particularly vivid) and a love and respect for the livestock he tends. He has an especially tender relationship with a puppy, whom he dotes on.

Black comedy

The story is not without humour. And because it is written in a regional dialect, it ties the narrative to a specific place and imbues it with a real sense of authenticity. The use of language is inventive — a Labrador jumps up onto a gate and “jowled the top of it with drool”, a breeze is “chirring through the trees”,  there’s a “hubbleshoo of small boys spewing out the bus” — and Raisin effortlessly brings scenes to life in gorgeously crafted sentences, such as this one:

Father took hold the wire and wrenched it up. A shimmer of raindrops spring out, arching a rainbow an instant, till they fell to the sod and he began pulling the wire off his post with his hands.

God’s Own Country — the title refers to the beauty of the North York Moors — is best appreciated when read in large chunks, as opposed to a chapter here and a chapter there. It takes a good while for any narrative tension to build, but the patient reader is amply rewarded when Sam goes on the run with the teenage girl who has moved in next door. But the story does get quite confusing towards the end, a reflection of the state of Sam’s mind at the time.

It reminded me very much of Patrick McCabe’s Butcher Boy and even MJ Hyland’s This is How, both of which are far stronger (and more disturbing) novels featuring deeply troubled male narrators, but as a first-time novelist it marks Raisin as an exciting new talent.

God’s Own Country won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award in 2009, The Guildford Book Festival First Novel Award in 2008 and a Betty Trask Award in 2008. It was shortlisted for a host of other awards, including The Guardian First Book Award and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

13 thoughts on “‘God’s Own Country’ by Ross Raisin”

  1. I really enjoyed this – I remember devouring it, and always wondering what Sam would do next. I loved landscape and how Raisin described it too.


  2. The landscape really made this book, didn’t it? And I loved the dialect and the Yorkshire phrases etc… although some members of our book group struggled with that aspect.


  3. This is due to arrive through my letter box tomorrow! I hope to get started on it sooner rather than later, all the reviews I have read have been very intriguing. All sounds a bit sinister!


  4. Sometimes I struggle with dialect, but the Yorkshire phrases are so direct and onomatapeoic (as distinct to Glasgow which I do struggle with).


  5. I loved the black humour of this book and particularly the language/dialect used. Ross Raisin talks about this book in Radio 4’s Book Club (May edition, I think) and it’s well worth a listen.


  6. What a great word: onomatapeoic!
    I don’t seem to have a problem with Glaswegian — my paternal grandparents were from Glasgow, so I just imagine that my grandfather is reading it out to me. That’s certainly what I did when I read James Kelman’s How Late back in the 90s.


  7. For American readers, it’s called ‘Out Backwards’ over here. Read it and loved it; it was strange and twisty just like poor Sam’s grip on reality.


  8. How weird… I wonder why they changed the name — too many other novels in US with the same title? Thanks for letting me know — not sure ‘Out Backwards’ has the same ring to it.


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