A young man and his dog against the world

God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin

Sam Marsdyke is nineteen, and due to something that happened in his past, is stuck working on his family’s sheep farm on the North York Moors instead of getting a life.  Virtually ignored by his parents, he wanders the moors with his dog looking at the world from up there with a mixture of amusement, detachment and resentment.

One day life starts to get more interesting for him.  A family of ‘towns’ moves into the farm next door; moved out from the city to get a better life. He sees them arrive, and watches the teenaged daughter laughing with the removals men…

She’d know about me before too long. Not me, course, but my history, painted up in all the muckiest colours by some tosspot, gagging to set her against me. A piece of gossip travels fast through a valley. The hills keep it in. It goes from jaw to jaw all the way along till it’s common news, true or not. Specially when the valley’s full of tosspots, such as this one.

It’s obvious right from the beginning that Sam’s resentments run far deeper than just the incomers, he has little time for anyone except his dog.  It’s also obvious that he’s going to fall for the girl, and she too, appears to be interested in this lanky young man – or is she just using him?  ‘Ere long, they get into some scrapes together, and you know it will all go very, very wrong…

The entire novel is narrated entirely by Sam, and scattered finely with lovely Yorkshire dialect words such as fettling, trunklements and blatherskite – all good woody words, (to quote Monty Python).  Unusually for me I didn’t find that the dialect got in the way, Raisin has a light hand with it and gives Sam a distinct voice.   Underneath it all Sam is shy; his schoolmates all called him ‘Lankenstein’; he tends to blurt and lash out, making decisions that he played out totally differently in the fantasies in his head, making him a rather unreliable narrator.  You’re never quite sure what he’s going to do next, as his thoughts and the reality of his actions are often very different.  It was this duality to Sam that absolutely gripped me from the start.

I really enjoyed the scenery too tramping over the moors with Sam, who is quite the nature boy. There is a fair bit of humour in the novel, but as you might expect, it gets darker as it goes.  I found this novel ‘reet gradely’ (well my maternal grandmother was Yorkshire-born), and thoroughly recommend it. (9/10)

I had the pleasure of meeting the author last week at the Penguin blogger’s event.  We talked a little about the use of dialect, and I said I thought he had a light touch with it. He told me that this hadn’t gone down so well in America, (where the book is published as Out Backwards), which is a shame.

His next book Waterline is set in the shipyards of the Clyde in Glasgow, and will also be full of rich regional language. He’s going to have some lessons in Glaswegian for readings when it comes out!

See what others think – read John Self of Asylum’s thoughts from 2009 here and Dovegreyreader’s review from 2008 here.

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I bought this book.  To buy from Amazon.co.uk, click below:
God’s Own Country – paperback
Waterline – will be published in July.


6 thoughts on “A young man and his dog against the world

  1. ah glad you enjoyed it, I’ll be reading my copy shortly. I am sure this was featured on some radio programme as the plot rings a bell with me.

  2. This American has never had any problem with dialects, especially if, as you say, the author isn’t heavy-handed with it. It’s a good brain-stretching exercise, and fun to learn the “vernaculars” of other places. What I’m wondering is why publishers so often feel compelled to change the titles (and the covers) of books from the originals when they are released in the US — it feels a little insulting sometimes 🙂

    • Hi Leslie, apparently Out Backwards was Raisin’s original title for the book, so we got the change rather than you with this one!

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