The Lie of the Land is another “state of the nation” novel, this time inspired by the recession that began in 2009 and which continues to the present.
One day, just before the recession became public knowledge, my husband came back from a meeting in the Treasury, very pale. He had been told what Liam Byrne, the then Labour Cabinet Minister, said in the now notorious note declaring that “there is no money left.” This is why my novel begins with the words: “There is no money left, and the Bredins cannot afford to divorce.” It is about the interplay between what has been happening on the national stage, and an entirely private quarrel between two very different people, who in a sense represent the city and the country.
Being married to an economist I am acutely aware of what happens, not just in the abstract but in people’s lives, as money becomes more or less available. Having already lived through two recessions (in the early 1980s and 1990s) we had experienced how bad things can get, how miserable, anxious and deprived of hope – and I have made it one of my particular subjects in my fiction. I am unusual among modern novelists in that I have learnt from the Victorians the importance of naming specific sums of money – incomes, what things cost and what can be earned. Even if this information rapidly becomes out of date, it is as accurate as I can make it at the time of writing.
I have always supported marriage as an institution for the simple reason that I believe it gives the best legal protection to men, women and above all children. Like democracy itself, it is deeply flawed but I think the alternatives are worse. I am not by any means against divorce, which can be the only least-worst option. However, I almost always hope that marriages can be mended, especially when there are children involved. I believe that divorce is like a curse handed down the generations: once your parents divorce, you are, statistically, three times more likely to do so yourself.
This particular novel began when a photographer told me that he’d left his wife and children for another woman, only to find that a year later he was no happier, only a good deal poorer. “I wish I’d stuck a knife in my heart first,” he said.
I was very struck by this (and used it in The Lie of the Land). Having written before about how people can come together I became fascinated by the disentangling of two lives, the misery of children, the prospect of a lonely old age and above all, the money.
Today, when a friend (especially a woman friend) tells me their marriage has gone bust, almost the first question I ask is not about the feelings but about the money. However hurt, shocked and stunned the betrayed partner is, in the end it’s about the money. Money in divorce is both weapon and balm, justice or injustice. It shouldn’t be – but it is.
My warring couple decide … well, you will have to see what they decide. I thought for years about what Lottie’s choice would be. It may be the right one for her, or it may not, after all that happens to them. But I do believe that places change people, and although my novel is about many different aspects of modern country life, it is the psychological effects – comic and tragic – which matter most..