Synopses & Reviews
"I have a secret to tell you, dear, and this is it: I am not Mary. That is a mistake. I am not a girl. I'm a boy."
Mary's fight to become Martin, her claustrophobic small town, and her troubled family make up the core of this remarkable and intimate, emotional yet unsentimental novel. As daring as Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Sacred Country inspires us to reconsider the essence of gender, and proposes new insights in the unraveling of that timeless malady known as the human condition. As Mary's mother, Estelle, observes, "There are no whole truths, just as there is no heart of the onion. There are only the dreams of the individual mind."
Sweeping us through three decades, from the repressive English countryside of the fifties to the swinging London of the sixties to the rhinestone tackiness of seventies America, Rose Tremain unmasks the "sacred country" within us all.
"A beautiful, knowing novel about isolation and loneliness." New Yorker
"An extraordinary novel...spare, pointed [and] extremely moving." The Wall Street Journal
"A book that we give to our friends and are glad to have read....Tremain gives us a precisely imagined landscape and...characters that we come to care deeply about." The New York Times Book Review
"A stunning achievement." The Boston Sunday Globe
"Sacred Country is...about the unexpected and its pleasures, the thrill of rounding a corner and finding something is not at all what you thought, even when that something is yourself...brilliant." The Village Voice Literary Supplement
The Literary Review (London) There is no one like Tremain as far as the eye can see....Her book is one to admire and enjoy. It is funny, absorbing, and quite original. I've read nothing to touch it this year.
The Boston Sunday Globe Rose Tremain's purpose is to probe and illumine the mystery of identity with particular poignancy and rare compassion....intricate and rewarding fiction.
Los Angeles Times Mary's story is superficially bizarre, yet Tremain makes her not just real but moving and blithe....There is a hint of the magical or providential at work.
The London Times Evening Standard Sacred Country, by even the most exacting standards, is an unqualified success.
The Washington Post The writing in this novel is a sheer delight....skilled, intelligent storytelling at its best.
The New Yorker A beautiful, knowing novel about isolation and loneliness.
The Wall Street Journal An extraordinary novel....spare, pointed [and] extremely moving.
The Village Voice Literary Supplement Sacred Country is...about the unexpected and its pleasures, the thrill of rounding a corner and finding something is not at all what you thought, even when that something is yourself...brilliant.
The New York Times Book Review A book that we give to our friends and are glad to have read...Tremain gives us a precisely imagined landscape and...characters that we come to care deeply about.
The Boston Sunday Globe A stunning achievement.
About the Author
Rose Tremain's books have won many prizes including the Whitbread Novel of the Year, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Prix Femina Etranger, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Angel Literary Award and the Sunday Express Book of the Year.
Reading Group Guide
READING GROUP GUIDE
1. After studying Arthurian legend in school, Mary swears to protect Lindsey, Pearl, and Estelle. Judging from her own history, what compels her to make this oath and what exactly does she hope to protect them from?
2. The lives of Walter Loomis and Mary Ward parallel at several points in the novel. Though they have different desires, are there underlying similarities to their dreams?
3. Livia, Mary's dead grandmother, is a constant presence throughout the book. Mary often revisits the story of her grandmother's glider accident. What do Livia and her story represent for Mary?
4. From a very young age, the Dictionary of Inventions fascinates Mary. What role does invention and reinvention play in Mary's life? What power does it give her?
5. Many events in Mary's youth, from the night of King George's death to the night she leaves her family's farm, have a major impact on her life. What is the significance of these epiphanies? Do these events have anything in common?
6. Throughout the course of the novel, rural England undergoes a gradual, modernizing transformation. What is this transformation and how is it embodied in Sonny and his family?
7. After Pearl visits Martin in London and reveals her secret, do you think Martin's resulting resentment toward Timmy is legitimate?
8. Sacred Country is told through the narratives of several different characters. How does this affect the story? How did you approach each narrator? Do you find any of the characters particularly sympathetic? More likeable? More easily unlikable?
9. All of the young characters in the book must leave Swaithey in order to grow or to find out who they are. Are there any characters who defy this pattern? If not, why is it necessary for each character to, at some point, leave?
10. At the end of the novel, Martin decides to remain in Tennessee and abandon the final step of her surgery. What about her life in America provides the happiness that she once believed could come only from fully becoming a man?
11. Timmy and Walter grapple with the conflict between obligation to family and obligation to self. There is a large gap between what the characters want to do with their lives and what their families want them to do. Are either of their conflicts ever resolved? If so, how? If not, is resolution possible?
Copyright © 1992 by Rose Tremain