It’s one thing to be raised in a sheltered environment. It’s another to be so secluded from the world that you’re 51 years old living with your elderly mother in a dilapidated cottage in the English countryside with no TV or internet, no bank account and almost no contact with the outside.
So begins Unsettled Ground, a new novel by Claire Fuller (Bitter Orange).
The story follows the middle-aged twins Jeanie and Julius, who discover that their mother, Dot, has died in the home they all shared. They’re sad, yes, but not surprised. What does surprise them is when, soon after, they receive an eviction notice from the landlord—the man the twins believe murdered their father years before. (The free rent, they assumed, was a form of reparation.)
Suddenly homeless and without the basic skills to survive in modern-day society, Jeanie and Julius are forced to reckon with the secrets their mother kept from them as they consider leaving their bubble. While Julius hopes to reroute the course of his life and start connecting with the outside world, Jeanie is perfectly content to remain in isolation, opining that, “The different lives they might have lived are too enormous to comprehend.”
Even though Julius strives to acclimate to modern society, modern society has little to no use for him. This is not the romantic portrayal of the English countryside that readers—typically American readers—are used to. Fuller’s take on this occasionally over-sentimentalized locale is far bleaker, focusing on the marginalized factions of modern-day English society that are ignored by the establishment and progressives alike.
As its title suggests, Fuller’s latest novel is largely unsettling. But while it’s by no means a light, happy read, Unsettled Ground is a simple but powerful story of rural poverty, sibling relationships and, perhaps above all, resilience.