Lily’s affair with Harry will have an impact far wider than she could have imagined.
England’s Lane is a book of such deep emotion and introspection for its three main characters that I felt it was a bit like reading a literary Venn diagram as their lives are affected by one another’s behaviours. Love, grief and obsession are so incisively observed that I almost felt quite voyeuristic at times. I had to read England’s Lane in short bursts as it is incredibly claustrophobic and intense and I needed to give myself time to reflect as I read.
Indeed, the structure of England’s Lane lends itself to episodic reading as it is slightly fragmented. This means that the reader experiences similar information, obfuscation and half-truths in the same way as do the main characters; Pippa in particular. I thought it was inspired to give Pippa a first person account as she could so easily have been less significant than Harry and Lily.
In England’s Lane Emma Woolf has got straight to the heart of what makes us human, of how we are frequently selfish, self-deceptive and inward looking. She illustrates with unerring accuracy the ways in which one person’s actions reverberate across the lives of others in subsequent weeks, months and years. I felt that the way the similarities between the initially seemingly disparate characters were brought together was so well attuned and although I didn’t much warm to Lily, Pippa or, especially, Harry I still found myself caring about what happened to them, understanding them and empathising with them completely.
England’s Lane is a brilliant title because, although this is the road where Lily lives, it could be any road in England where characters like these could, and probably do, live, making the reader sometimes uncomfortably aware of just how similar our own lives could so easily become. Whilst there is a clear plot to England’s Lane and I enjoyed the narrative as both as a love story and a microcosmic portrait of modern society, it was the exploration of the themes that appealed most to me. Grief, love, mental health, family relationships, guilt, jealousy and despair, passion and hope thrum through the pages of England’s Lane. I’d defy anyone to read it and not find there is something they can relate to.
I think England’s Lane may polarise readers as it feels quite oppressive at times, but I found it affecting, intense, incredibly interesting and, which surprised me, very uplifting. It’s a book to savour and reflect upon.