book review: Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller






Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
★★★☆☆
Tin House Books, May 18, 2021






I didn’t hate this book at all but it was just so, so unremarkable. I loved the premise: Jeanie and Julius are 51-year-old twins living with their mother in rural England who drops dead one day and suddenly Jeanie and Julius are forced to navigate a world they don’t fully understand. It’s different and interesting but it just really fell flat for me.

The problem with Unsettled Ground is that there’s just no momentum. And I don’t mean that in the sense that it would have worked better as a page-turner murder mystery or anything like that; I’m an advocate of the literary-thriller hybrid genre and I think Fuller nails that tone here–there is a bit of a central mystery but it’s mostly a vehicle to explore the themes that she’s interested in interrogating. That’s all fine and well. But on a sentence-by-sentence level, this book dragged. There’s no sense that it’s moving forward toward anything, it just feels like it’s spinning its wheels and I did not at any point find myself compelled to pick it up.

Like I said, I did enjoy some of the thematic threads that Fuller explored in this novel and I don’t have an overwhelmingly negative feeling toward it; I just couldn’t bring myself to get invested at any point and I think this would be an incredibly lackluster addition to the Women’s Prize shortlist. 


Thank you to Netgalley and Tin House for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

7 thoughts on “book review: Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

    • I’ve only read Swimming Lessons which I also thought was fine but not spectacular. I totally agree with what Callum said about how she has an amazing book in her that she possibly hasn’t written yet. I still want to read Bitter Orange and I keep feeling drawn to her books for some hazy reason, even though she hasn’t done much for me!

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  1. I get where you’re coming from! I’ve read all of Fuller’s novels and think she’s a great writer, but this was her least successful work for me. There’s a lot of plodding expository prose to wade through to get to the plot. The book is set locally to me, so that was a point of interest, and illiteracy and poverty at middle age are unusual and little-explored topics. But I agree it’s not really shortlist material.

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    • I thought the setting was excellently rendered and if it were local to me I’d have undoubtedly enjoyed it much more! I’ve only read this and Swimming Lessons, neither of which wowed me, but there’s something about her as a writer that I find really interesting and I keep finding myself drawn to her books.

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  2. This worked better for me but I agree that it doesn’t really feel like shortlist material. I always feel so drawn to the concepts and themes in Fuller’s work, but something about the execution just doesn’t quite click. I still feel like she has that great novel in her though 👀

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  3. Great review. I’m curious to see where I’ll fall on the spectrum of mixed opinions with this one, but I am glad at least that if one of the mystery-type novels from the longlist had to advance that it wasn’t Small Pleasures (which I definitely had negative feelings toward) or The Golden Rule. Would’ve been happy to leave all three on the longlist though tbh!

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