Hutchinson | 2019 (5 September) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 1468 and young priest Christopher Fairfax is hunting his way through Exmoor to find the remote village of Addicott St George. He has been sent there to bury the village’s priest Father Lacey who, when out in the nearby countryside, fell to his death from a great height. It’s hard to conduct a eulogy for a man one doesn’t know and so Fairfax sets out to discover all he can about this man who served his parish for 32 years.
It is while Fairfax is searching Father Lacey’s office that he comes across documents that Lacey shouldn’t have had. These heretical texts record past lives, those of the ungodly, who once walked and worked this land. As Fairfax digs deeper, his investigations leads him to nearby Durston Court and its enigmatic, unusual Lady of the manor, and secrets that she keeps hidden. Suddenly, Father Lacey’s death seems less of an accident and the truth of it will be as staggering as it is lethal.
Robert Harris is easily one of my very favourite authors, if not my favourite, not least because everything he writes is so different, original, ingenious and surprising. And with The Second Sleep Robert Harris has achieved, in my opinion, the greatest surprise of them all. Something happens early on – watch for the clues – and, it might be a cliche to say it, but I could feel my jaw actually dropping.
It is for this reason that I’m going to say nothing further at all about this book! I came to it knowing nothing except that I knew it would be wonderful – which it certainly is – and so I had the considerable joy of discovering all of its secrets for myself. And so I’d urge you not to read any reviews (except this one, of course).
All I’ll say to tempt you to read it, is that The Second Sleep is beautifully written and structured. Its characters feel real, their fears and loves tangible. The Exmoor setting is perfect – it’s comforting but also claustrophobic and remote. Spend time with Christopher Fairfax and Lady Durston. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be thrilled, mesmerised and shocked.
Most of all, read this book putting all your expectations and assumptions to one side. Neither belong here. The rewards will be great. The Second Sleep is most certainly a masterpiece and a contender for my book of the year.