Sacred Country Review
A slow, contemplative read, you spend much of the book trudging through the gloom - and those who prefer a more light-hearted, faster-paced read may find themselves battling to get through the first few chapters. We must urge you to continue for what waits on the other side is nothing short of beautiful and transformative, and is a story that needs to be heard.
Published in 1992, Sacred Country is a wonderful novel with a transgender main character that’s set in post-World War 2 Suffolk. While it does fall into the trope of “born in the wrong body” (that old chestnut), the novel takes great care to explore Martin’s journey and the complexity of his emotions in a way that feels raw and real. Naturally, we can’t speak for the entire trans community, but you get the sense that Tremain did her very best to handle the subject with a kind of sensitivity that was unheard of in the early 90s.
Our story begins in 1952, with Mary (later Martin) aged six years old, standing in a field, paying silent respects to the recently dead King George. This is when Martin realises that he is actually a boy, and regards it as a little secret he hasn’t told anyone yet - the girl that everyone sees is just a mistake. The opening pages are cold and ponderous, exploring our main character’s dysfunctional family, and setting you up for more cold and ponderous pages to come. Though the book is really about Martin and his journey, Sacred Country is full of bleak characters who can’t seem to find their way in the world. With money woes threatening the family farm, Martin’s father slips into alcoholism and aggression, while his mother’s mental health unravels. All around Martin, his friends and family slowly lose their hopes and dreams to the crushing reality of post-war rural England.
We regret to say that there is not a single happy person in this book. In fact, there were times that we struggled to keep reading. The word that keeps coming to mind is bleak. But Tremain keeps you going by offering the smallest glimmer of hope, you want so badly for things to work out for the brave and heartbreakingly loveable Martin that you have to keep reading to see his story line through.
This is a story about change, within you and around you, but it’s also about how we are all looking for meaning in our lives and how we don’t always find it. Depressing, yes - but also incredibly moving and beautifully written.
Grab your copy of Sacred Country here