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Sacred Country

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

SACRED COUNTRY is another highly original work by the author best known for RESTORATION (1989), a novel told from the point of view of a seventeenth century court physician. In SACRED COUNTRY, Rose Tremain has again stretched her imagination to its limits. The central character in this novel is an English woman, Mary Ward, who realizes when she is only six that she is a male trapped in a female body and spends the next twenty-eight years in search of her real identity.

Mary’s quest does not take place in isolation. Almost all of the people in her world are looking for something or someone. Her father, Sonny Ward, wants his son to take over his farm, while his son, who for a time wishes only to spend his life either swimming or praying, finally breaks his father’s heart by becoming a preacher and leaving the land. Her mother, Estelle Ward, keeps withdrawing either to a lunatic asylum or to her television world, which becomes the most vivid reality in her life. Then there is Walter Loomis, who leaves the family butcher shop and flees to Nashville to be a country singer, where at the end of the novel Mary, now Martin, is also living, while she ponders the possibility of a penile implant.

Recounted sometimes by the author, sometimes by one or another of the characters, SACRED COUNTRY is as filled with surprises as life itself. While her most inflexible characters meet tragic ends, the best of them, like Mary-Martin and Walter, proceed through life as if it were a carnival, where, even if one encounters something disgusting or disappointing, he can always mount the merry-go-round and try for the brass ring.