This book - subtitled "A Biography Of An English Acre" - initially appealed to me because it seemed to trace the history of a specific place. I was expecting something along the lines of Peter Ackroyd's historical explorations of London backwaters, adapted to the rural location of this corner of the North Yorkshire moors.
My initial expectations were not met, however. "The Plot" is really more a kind of autobiography, spun out of author Madeline Bunting's memories of her unsatisfactory relationship with her self-centred sculptor father and padded out with an essayist's consideration of historical and sociological topics - the decline of farming, the fate of the land, the long-term effects of war and political shift on even the most obscure and hidden corners of the world. Using the "plot" simply as a starting point, these musings explore the nature of guilt and obsession (her father built and furnished the chapel as a kind of folly, a atonement in stone for having survived the war) and the way in which the "genius loci" looks and feels different to every observer - the native, the tourist, the rural planner, the incomer in search of redemptive spiritual symbols.
Personally, I would have liked to know more about the origins and archaeology of the land in minuter detail: aside from a consideration of the wildlife and some references to botched Victorian excavations, there's not a lot of that kind of study. That's not to criticise the book too much - it's a beautifully-written account, exhaustively researched and shot through with unexpected poetry which evokes the plot's atmosphere and associations in deeply moving terms, at least from Bunting's point of view. I couldn't help feeling, though, that it was less a biography of an English acre than an exploration of unfinished personal and family business.