This book has sat on my ‘to read’ shelf for about three years, so I thought I would remedy this by taking it on holiday and eliminating my other reading options. I bought the book in my first year of university as it was recommended by a tutor... and Jules Hardy was a Bath Spa Graduate.
Also I found the title compelling, and we all know how important titles can be after the Pacific Vortex! incident. Altered Land is quite ambiguous in its meaning; it could have been about a place that had changed after an event, or some twisted dream version of the real world. Jules Hardy’s Altered Land is the former, or rather how the lives of people are altered after an event.
I have to say, the first section of the book is one of the unsurpassed bits of prose I’ve read in a long time. The characters are well structured and even though the prose isn’t in chronological order, it’s still easy to follow. There is a missing ‘a’ on page 77 but that’s no big deal, and I was genuinely surprised by the revelation.
However, there are three things that annoyed me. There are POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD just so you are aware.
The first irritation is a big one. One of the main characters becomes deaf and is hospitalised for a year. After the character leaves hospital, his doctor writes him a letter where he says, ‘you can write or call any time.’ The character is deaf! What good is calling you if he’s deaf, he won’t hear you, you treated him for a year, how can you be so thoughtless!? It doesn’t end there though. Neither of the two characters who read the letter seem to notice this neglectful statement at which point it stops being the doctor’s fault and becomes the writer’s.
Moving on to point number too, and it’s a minor thing, there seem to be a few Americanisms. Firstly, another of our characters gets tenure at the University of Exeter and while this may have been possible, it’s not likely as the tenure system is not widely used in the UK, and Exeter University wasn’t very old at the time. Later on, there is a description of a house with a basketball hoop above the garage door; the American equivalent of having a mini football goal in the back garden.
I probably wouldn’t make much of the above point if Hardy’s main character wasn’t a carpenter. I make a point to read books cover to cover and I’m glad because on the author introductory page, it says that Jules Hardy is a trained carpenter. So, for a book, we have a carpenter working in the area where the author lives. Exactly how much research did Jules Hardy do? It’s like she researched the hospital bit at the beginning, got bored, and then didn’t research again. I’m guessing she got all the tenure stuff from an episode of Friends, and the basketball hoop from watching too many movies.
And the talk of research brings me round to my last subject; football. Hardy has used a memory from the 1966 World Cup Final to frame the novel. It’s not that her facts are wrong, but more that her main character has an avid interest in football. As stated in the novel, it’s one of the only things he can watch on TV without the luxury of sound. But, when she writes from this character’s perspective, she doesn’t highlight his interest. Just a little fact about what’s going on in the matches he watches would be enough, but we don’t even find out what team he supports.
But, other than those three tiny issues, Altered Land is probably the best 324 pages of literature I’ve read in a while. I would recommend it to friends, relatives and fans of light literary fiction with a balance between storytelling, imagery and character insight.
Altered Land by Jules Hardy was published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd in 2002. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)
A side note on location: One of characters drives from Noss Mayo to Exeter University on a regular basis. Getting there and back means covering 90 miles a day.