One hot summer’s day, John Cole decides to leave his life behind.
He shuts up the bookshop no one ever comes to and drives out of London. When his car breaks down and he becomes lost on an isolated road, he goes looking for help, and stumbles into the grounds of a grand but dilapidated house.
Its residents welcome him with open arms – but there’s more to this strange community than meets the eye. They all know him by name, they’ve prepared a room for him, and claim to have been waiting for him all along.
As nights and days pass John finds himself drawn into a baffling menagerie. There is Hester, their matriarchal, controlling host; Alex and Claire, siblings full of child-like wonder and delusions; the mercurial Eve; Elijah – a faithless former preacher haunted by the Bible; and chain-smoking Walker, wreathed in smoke and hostility. Who are these people? And what do they intend for John?
I prefer to write my own synopsis as part of my reviews, but I’ve used the blurb from the book here, as I think it sounds fascinating. A strange community who are waiting for a man who has never met them before? Colour me intrigued. And yet, this element of the mystery is solved relatively early on in the novel and, to me, was a little anticlimactic. I think that this is completely my own fault, as I expected something quite different, but I did find the answer to be a little disappointing.
That said, there is a fair amount of ambiguity in this novel, so it might be that my interpretation of events is too literal. For instance, it’s not at all clear in what time period it’s set. There are cars and telephones (although no mention of mobiles that I picked up on) so this does limit how early it could be. But the drought and the heatwave could indicate a near-future in which global warming and climate change have become more noticeable. I chose to interpret it as current day, but that was a choice, and there were points at which I questioned this decision.
I was also struck by the distinct lack of other people in the novel. There is John and the small commune, but hardly anyone else. This did lead me to a couple of theories which I’m not sure that I should comment on in this review. However, there are a couple of other individuals later in the novel, which put paid to my theories. Even so, I don’t want to give others pre-conceived ideas about the novel, so I’ll say no more on this, but if you have read After Me Comes the Flood, please let me know – I’d love the chance to talk about this and compare ideas!
I do think that I would have got a little more from this novel had I have understood more of the biblical references. Such things often pass me by, and whilst some were obvious, I do feel that I was missing the bigger picture or the underlying message that Perry was trying to make. That’s not to put anyone off – I don’t think you have to be an expert in such matters to understand these references, it’s just that I’ve had very little exposure to such things, and am therefore largely ignorant in this regard.
Perry’s writing is, of course, absolutely gorgeous – she’s an incredibly talented writer. I loved the subtle foreshadowing throughout the novel of what was to come. I have to admit that I did prefer The Essex Serpent, which I found to be more accessible, but I did enjoy the ethereal quality of After Me Comes the Flood.