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You can’t hurry love

19 December 2014

A great read by a first-time novelist, says Fiona Hook

After Me Comes The Flood
Sarah Perry
Serpent's Tail £11.99

SARAH PERRY, whose first novel this is, seems, like Athena, to have sprung fully grown from the head of Zeus, and have nothing more to learn about plotting, description, or engaging the reader.

At the beginning, this wonderful novel appears to be merely another modern take on the Gothic. Driven by the heat, John leaves his London bookshop for his brother's house on the Norfolk coast, prepared to put up with "a houseful of good-natured boys and a sister-in-law who always seemed to be laughing" for the sake of clean air, and a cool wind in the afternoon.

Instead, he loses his way and finds himself at a big house where everyone seems to expect him, and be glad to see him. After a while there is a rational explanation for this: it's a case of mistaken identity. But, fascinated by his companions, he decides to continue the deception. And he finds they are a Ship of Fools, as a picture in the house suggests - Elijah, the former preacher who has lost his faith; Eve the pianist; Claire, who is so protective of her beautiful brother Alex; the hostile Walker; and Hester, who combines striking ugliness with an air of reliability which will prove to be deceptive.

It is difficult to say any more without spoiling the plot. Instead, one can praise Perry's power of description - the setting is as much a character as any of the humans - and her ability to build an air of menace. Who is sending fragile Alex letters? Why is the name Eadwacer found on playing cards, and carved on a table? The greatest mystery is John himself, a man who has never loved, and is suddenly exposed to love in all its forms. Will the dam he has built around himself crack?

Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.

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