Sacred Country By Rose Tremain.
A most unusual book about what happens when a six year old girl, Mary Ward, suddenly realises that she’s really a boy. As this is in 1952 in the middle of a Suffolk potato field with an abstracted mother and brutal father, it doesn’t augur well.
We follow Mary’s life for the next thirty years as she, and the people around her, come to terms with the implications of this realisation.
As well as Mary, the author introduces us to a whole range of characters that we also follow and we experience through their eyes the claustrophobia of the village, the restrictions imposed by the post-war ethos of respectability and the clash between the expectations of the generations. It’s not an easy read as many of the characters are sad, trapped and unfulfilled. But it raises thought–provoking issues about transgender, nature versus nurture and the influence her damaged, bullying father had on her and the whole family. It seems that only those who escape from the village have any sort of fulfilment.
In Mary’s case, as she becomes Martin, she seems to find acceptance and at least ‘creeping happiness’ in America, ironically helping to run a farm, which, if she’d been born a boy, she could have done back home in Suffolk.
I was surprised to find this book was first published over 20 years ago. The transgender issues it explores are much more discussed and, we hope, accepted today.