Jones’s sixth novel is a fabulous thing: vivid and funny, sometimes heart-rendingly sad. Like Frith, it positions itself as a retreat from the big bad modern world, a deliberate step-change after 2019’s moneyed state-of-Europe bestseller The Snakes. But again, like the farm, the setup is misleading. Jones’s fictional landscape is jam-packed, abundant, and her smallholding as thick with intrigue as the Borgias’ court ... Surfing a wave of children’s chatter, the book traces the commune’s history and gently exposes its faultlines ... Jones does a fine job of painting this dysfunctional utopia, held together with chicken wire and petty cash. But her novel works best as a kind of conjoined coming-of-age tale, flicking between Amy and Lan’s narration as they march from early childhood towards puberty ... The prose skips freely between the past and present tense. Amy and Lan’s voices are interchangeable, overlapping, like a vibrant Venn diagram, because they mostly see the world in the same way. But the book’s imperfections are all of a piece. I don’t think I’ve read another recent novel that better captures the pure sugar-rush of childhood; the sense of a life so exhilarating and ecstatic that it is almost too much to bear. There are cakes and champagne and that wheelie bin full of rats. Inevitably, too, there’ll be a flood of tears before bedtime.
Choosing to write in the present-tense voice of a young child is a gamble for any writer; the fine line between faux-naïf and implausibly knowing is tricky to walk, and it doesn’t always feel consistent in the early part of the book, when the narrative voices can at times sound a little too self-aware for their age. They become more convincing as the story progresses, and the children grow older and better able to interpret the behaviour of the adults around them. But the child’s-eye perspective allows Jones to examine the flaws in this Edenic experiment obliquely, through narrators who feel rather than comprehend the tensions between the adults ... a slow-burner, patiently and carefully building its world through the accumulation of everyday detail, documenting the ways in which living close to the land, with its seasonal shifts and proximity to birth and death, steels the children for the greater losses to come. Jones’s great skill is to switch the mood from elegiac to comic and back in the course of a single scene, making the shift appear seamless. This is a novel of quiet beauty, vividly evoking the magnitude of childhood loss and the capacity for hope.
Jones has managed to create the voices of two children which, for the most part, are compelling rather than grating. They may not always be distinct enough from each other, but the two children lead such overlapping lives, closer almost than siblings, that it could be argued that there is a kind of merging of their perspectives ... The pair are fairly oblivious to outside reality and their grasp on things reads authentically like children who have been raised with hazy hippie ideals ... The narrative meanders somewhat, but there are increasing notes of disquiet as the novel ratchets up, faultlines begin to appear ... Anyone familiar with Jones’s work will know that she is an emphatically unsentimental novelist and she doesn’t disappoint with this intermittently joyous but affecting portrait of childhood.
... speaks directly to the lockdown-generated belief that life is better surrounded by fields and sheep rather than dirty urban streets ... has none of the emotional intensity of The Outcast, Jones’s desperately sad 1950s-set debut, which wrenched great pathos from a young son coming up against the complexities of the adult world. Rather, Jones sets out mainly to charm with her depiction of Blytonesque childhood, even as she tempers the romance through the matter-of-fact, present-tense perspective of her two child narrators ... There are starker moments of awakening too ... a desultory, shapeless novel, lacking much by way of plot or character. Jones has always been interested in children’s voices...but the oddthing about Lan and Amy is how difficult it is to tell them apart. Their voices blend together; the reader would be hard-pressed to describe their personalities. As narrators their most distinctive characteristic is their youthful love for emphasis, which Jones renders through an awful lot of italics ... And while Jones has fun at the expense of an uptight London couple using the new holiday let, Amy and Lan is neither a satire of urban relocation nor a Nina Stibbe-style comedy of eccentric family life. Rather it requires the reader to lean in to the steady flow of everyday incident, a bit like mindfulness in literary form, albeit with manure and chickens ... The idyll can’t go on for ever, of course, and it doesn’t. But however seductive the dream while it lasts, Jones fails to make us care about the characters who have lived it. It’s a curiously underwhelming novel. Perhaps, for many who relocate, a bit like countryside life itself.