Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Sacred Country” as Want to Read:
Sacred Country
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Sacred Country

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  722 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
From the author of The Gustav Sonata

At the age of six, Mary Ward, the child of a poor farming family in Suffolk, has a revelation: she isn't Mary, she's a boy. So begins Mary's heroic struggle to change gender, while around her others also strive to find a place of safety and fulfilment in a savage and confusing world.

Over a million Rose Tremain books sold

‘A writer of exce
Kindle Edition, 340 pages
Published (first published 1992)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,364)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Mary Ward stands shivering in a Suffolk, England field in February, 1952 and realizes she is meant to be a boy. She is just six years old. Within its opening pages Sacred Country promises to take you on a literary journey that will be long and painful. Rest assured, it will also be beautiful and transformative.

Although Mary and her quest for her physical identity are at the heart of Sacred Country, it is a book full of souls searching for emotional purchase. Mary's mother has a tenuous grip on
Oct 13, 2012 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sacred Country has at its core, the story of Mary Ward who in 1952, at six years old, while standing in the middle of a field in Suffolk in a silence intended to mark the death of the king, realises that she is a boy trapped in a girl's body. The novel follows her struggle with the implications of this realisation, culminating thirty years later in hormone treatment and a double mastectomy.

The story is also filled with the voices of the people around Mary - her brother, father, mother, grandfat
Dec 02, 2011 Bakkar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's a real masterpiece. I was overwhelmed by Rose Tremain flawless smooth style of writing in this book. I not only touched but lived each of the characters as if I were the angel watching him. I may even knew things about the characters that the angels watching them may didn't know about them. Well, if you are a guy who is fond of thrillers like me and you wanna read something different as a change, I recommend this book. you will find it wrote on the cover that it's about Mary finding her sel ...more

Rose Tremain is one of my favourite authors, although I haven’t read one of hers in a while. I tend to save them up for times when I just want a good book.

This was a good book, I enjoyed it so perhaps it says more about my reading mood that I didn’t enjoy it quite so much as I thought I would. Or maybe Tremain has just come to the end of her ability to shake my reading world. As time goes by, my reading preferences and desires and enjoyments change through experience.

Sacred Country is about a
Aug 17, 2007 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is the second Tremain book I read, and her writing continues to astound me; it has a quiet magnificence to it. She also does a splendid job of weaving together stories which, in the hands of a less talented writer, could become unpleasantly entangled.
May 19, 2009 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this. Loved this. Loved this. While the storyline and circumstances described are a bit somber, this was ultimately a really inspiring read. You follow the life of a remarkable young girl who from the age of six knows that she is really meant to be a boy. The main story is interesting enough, but there is an inter-weaving of characters, each with their own remarkable character development and growth. The relationship between Mary and her grandfather is beautiful to read. And very simply, t ...more
May 21, 2008 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bleak, bleak, bleak. Only because I am a big fan of Rose Tremain's work did I force myself to finish this. Tremain's characters are exiles of one kind or another, sundered from their true home or true nature by external forces, struggling to find a way to spiritual integrity, to a metaphorical home they only vaguely intuit the existence of. In Sacred Country, the struggle is horrendous and unending. Too much, too bleak.
Dec 09, 2008 Brenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer
hard to read, and depressing, but worthwhile. the main character has a revelation at the age of 6 that she is a boy and spends the rest of her life trying to make the outside match the inside. along with her story is that of another man in her town, who also feels that his life is meant to be different from the one he was given. it's a beautiful way to create empathy.
Dec 26, 2008 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a plot driven book, Candace might like this...oh wait poor Rose is still alive. Wonderfully written, stick it out it's okay it all comes down the the last quarter; I read those pages in one sitting. Did not like how the characters are created into their sexuality; there was not enough of their nature in themselves.
Aug 26, 2015 Kathy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sacred Country is an well written novel about loneliness and isolation. Early on, the setting is the English countryside in the in 1950s. The novel follows the lives of several family members and neighbors who are all affected by isolation and loneliness to some degree. The main focus is on Mary, a young girl who has always felt she was a boy trapped in a girl's body. Although the novel was written in the 90's, Mary's storyline could not have been more timely. All of the interconnecting stories ...more
Nov 19, 2014 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a huge fan of Rose Tremain's writing and her gift of storytelling, but I had overlooked this novel. So glad I discovered it, 20 years late. A young boy is trapped inside the body of a young girl during the era when changing one's gender was largely uncharted territory. Mary/Martin is not the only compelling character in this beautifully crafted story. Secondary and even tertiary characters come alive and linger long after this troubling, but supremely satisfying, book has ended. Highly recom ...more
This book, like many I've read recently started out very slowly for me, particularly as I got used to the style the author used of switching points of view and the way she organises her 'chapters'. Once I got past that and got a bit more hooked into the storyline it started to flow much better.

The story follows a girl born into a 1950s Suffolk farming community and her struggle to figure out where she fits into this life and in her own body. It's a really devastating read as you'd imagine would
Jun 20, 2010 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"I felt my heart jump about inside my aertex blouse. I felt thirsty and very peculiarly sad. I thought I might cry, which was a thing I never did, but sometimes you cry with your face and your mind isn't in it, but somewhere else, watching you. It was like that. It was my face that felt sad" (14).
“Cause so swift and foolish; effect so endless” (38).
“Mary was repelled. She despised Miss Vista. She wanted to hurl her green tennis ball at her face. She wanted a real wind to come and swoop her up in
Huw Rhys
Oct 21, 2011 Huw Rhys rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Vast parts of this book are like "The Mill on the Floss" on tranquilizers, it's so slow and ponderous.

These tedious bits are punctuated by stories of disease, depression, depravity and death. These are the main devices driving the plot.

Most of the characters struggle with their own self identities, and all go on journeys - metaphorically as well as physically. As you would surmise by now, few reach a better place - the luckier ones just about manage to stay still.

Maybe the whole conceit of the n
Maria Longley
There are many secret lives going on in this book, some like Mary's we find out about quickly and others slowly reveal themselves. It felt quite unusual to read a book set in 1950 to 1980, lost novelistic decades of the English countryside... There was a lot of misery and sadness, but also some decent honest hope for Mary from people along the way too (which makes it bearable as a reader) even if there isn't a grand Hollywood happy ending as such.
Wendy Greenberg
Jan 26, 2015 Wendy Greenberg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bowled over by this story...On the surface you would not imagine a Suffolk community 1952-1980 could comprise such characters and be "undressed" in such a poignant and understated way. Loved the characters and how they grew, the viewpoints and the unravelling/sweeping under the carpet of sanity, sexuality, family, hopes and dreams. Reminded me of Annabel by Kathleen Winter in its intensity and its way of addressing identity.
Jun 03, 2014 Clare rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fan of Rose Tremain, this book doesn't feature subject matter which can be described as "enjoyable." Rather, it is thought-provoking, disturbing at times, and downright depressing at others. Yet her characters are so interesting that any lack of plot has me care enough about them to keep on reading regardless. Not one of my favourites, but have recommended to my book group.
Sep 27, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
What a beautifully written book. The theme in the foreground of the story's plot is about gender identity, but there is a larger theme in the background, which is an exploration of identity writ large--how we find out who we are, how we try to live in a way that is truthful to that understanding, and the difficulties of both of these efforts in the midst of other people's needs and expectations of us.
Mar 30, 2016 Carole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. It tells the story of Mary Ward's journey to become the boy she believes she truly is, as she/he learns and grows, through hopes, fears, and in relationship with family and friends. The other characters all ring true. They are real and complex and live believable lives. There is sadness and joy.
Dec 22, 2012 Fran rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another astonishing read from Rose Tremain. Follows Mary Ward and her family commencing in post war Britain. Mary is six years old and during the family's observance of a two minute silent for the late King in a wet and cold Suffolk field Mary comes to the realisation that she is a boy. Story follows her long and often painful journey towards her goal to become Martin. The development tof the characters is fantastic. Mary’s mother struggles with her sanity, her father with his inability to make ...more
Would give this 4.5 if I could. 'Sacred Country' is a wonderful read about gender identification in the 50s-70s, and sexuality. It doesn't go as deeply into the emotions that Martin feels as transgender as I would like, but there is definitely a real sense of anguish and despair throughout the novel.

The characters are all very well written, mostly hopeless and self absorbed in their small country farm village. Despite this, you do feel for them and want life to improve for them. There is the odd
Mar 27, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
For a book I wouldn't have chosen myself, this turned out to be a really enjoyable read! The characters were well thought out and you were able to journey with them as the book went on, you really came to feel for them and care about what happened to them, particularly the main character. The descriptions of the scenery and locations were wonderful, and drew you right in to the book. One of the things I enjoyed most was the fact this book was set over a period of decades, and how it incorperated ...more
Sep 09, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the first Rose Tremain book I have read, and I found it utterly absorbing.

Throughout the book we follow Mary, a young girl who early on in her life, has the realisation that she is, infact, a boy, and struggle to become Martin. However, is the also the story of a large group of interlinking characters trapped by their life and upbringing in rural Suffolk.

The book for me said something about the rite of passage of finding freedom, and living your life as you need to. Everyone is born wi
May 03, 2015 Alison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How have I not read tremain's books before? What a wonderful writer. This tells 25 years of lives on a Suffolk village, all of which are extraordinary and mundane, mysterious and ordinary, violent and insightful in the most moving ways.
Jan 02, 2016 Victoria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written, with such finely drawn characters that you find their pain excruciating and their joys hugely rewarding. But there aren't many joys for them, be warned. Well worth reading!
Catherine Davison
Read it years ago, loved it, recommended it to everyone but right now I can't recall enough about it to write a review, just read it, it's quirky and good.
Angela Young
Sep 04, 2012 Angela Young rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What do you do when you know you've been born into the wrong body? How much courage does it take to make the changes - physical and psychological - necessary to become the person you know you are, really?

This is a multi-voiced novel (a favourite structure of mine) but first and foremost, it is Mary Martin Ward’s story: the story of a boy struggling to find his way in the world, and way out into the world, from within the prison of a girl’s body. So, obviously, it's an identity crisis dramatised
Sep 23, 2014 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, with that real-life way in which all things don't end happily ever after. Expertly crafted. MUST find out what else she's written.
May 18, 2014 Rufus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book that I read within two days, marred only by the abrupt ending and the insistence of using the name 'Mary' and the pronoun 'she' throughout.
Aug 20, 2014 Helen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was unrelentingly sad! Nearly all the characters carry almost insurmountable burdens. Nevertheless the writing was beautiful.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 45 46 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Sexual Metamorphosis: An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs
  • Bumbling into Body Hair: A Transsexual's Memoir
  • Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica
  • Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender
  • Letters for My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect
  • The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard
  • A + E 4ever
  • Just One of the Guys?: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality
  • What Becomes You
  • From the Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM and Beyond
  • Burning Bright
  • Divine Endurance (The Last Days of Ranaganar, #1)
  • Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton
  • Sisters By a River
  • Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue
  • Disturbed by Her Song
  • Becoming a Visible Man
  • Choir Boy
Rose Tremain's best-selling novels have won many awards, including the Orange Prize, the Whitbread Novel of the Year, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Prix Femina Etranger. Restoration, the first of her novels to feature Robert Merivel, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She lives in Norfolk and London with the biographer Richard Holmes.
More about Rose Tremain...

Share This Book

“There is something about the unexpected that moves us. As if the whole of existance is paid for in some way, except for that one moment, witch is free.” 5 likes
“The world is packed with mistery. We tend to forget this, but itțs still packed tight with it, like water in stone.” 2 likes
More quotes…