Title: After Me Comes The Flood
Author: Sarah Perry
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail
Date of Publication: 26 June 2014
Number of Pages: 288
Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Summary: Attempting to escape the heat, bookshop owner, John Cole places a closed until further notice sign in the window and heads north to his brothers home on the coast. The heat wave, 30 days long, has made him forgetful and he leaves behind his map and his phone and then his car breaks down. He decides to walk and seek help, little knowing where the decision will take him.
“John Cole! Is that you? It is you, isn’t it – it must be, I’m so glad. I’ve been waiting for you all day!”
The voice, calling him by name, belongs to Claire who takes him to the house and introduces him to the other inhabitants. Alex, her brother, Hester, the mother figure, Elijah, the priest who has lost his faith, Walker, mistrusting and silent and Eve, the pianist. A small group of people each attending to their own trials and demons. A group of people I felt, for the most part, I knew without any need to learn any more about them. John, in particular, became another Harriet (The Little Friend Donna Tartt) for me and it has been a long time, with many books between, since I have felt this.
“I’m writing this in a stranger’s room on a broken chair at an old school desk. The chair creaks if I move, and so I must keep very still. The lid of the desk is scored with symbols that might have been made by children or men, and at the bottom of the inkwell a beetle is lying on its back. Just now I thought I saw it move, but it’s dry as a husk and must’ve died long before I came.”
From this opening paragraph, a story of mystery and intrigue begins. Are the people who they say, are the people what they seem?
The striking element of this novel is the disembodied feeling that takes over early on. Readers are given clues to a time period, modern because of Cole forgetting his mobile phone but you could be forgiven for feeling you were in an era similar to Miss Marple (supported by the characters clothing on the cover) – and for me, this is where my imagination settled me. It seems some reviewers have found this difficult to reconcile but it was this disconnection from the “real” world I found most endearing. Who hasn’t wished, at some point in life, to escape to a time where life was “simpler”, where the pace of life isn’t bound to the speed of the internet, the number of followers on Twitter, or any number of modern complaints.
Some reviews complain the characters are unrelatable, no character development occurs, no plot progresses the story and that nothing, ultimately, happens. For me, they have completely missed the point. In not knowing everything about the characters, in only being given access to small portions of their lives, desires etc, Perry continues the feeling of being disconnected. For me, this novel highlights how we have become a society of busy bodies. A society that no longer understands how to act privately but demands greater access to the same idea, a society that demands accountability for everything and hates the idea of people living simply, without self aggrandizing and self promotion.
Ultimately, these feelings and connections can be summed up with one perfect sentence;
“But it need not mean anything, I think – it’s not necessary to understand everything.”