After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry

8th Sep 2014

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry
Sarah Perry’s debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood, is a combination of the utterly sinister and the utterly smashing.

One day John Cole spontaneously decides to drive out of London. When his car breaks down he goes to seek help and comes across an old house, full of strangers who say they’ve been waiting for him. They all know his name and are delighted to see him so, enjoying the warm welcome, he decides to make himself at home.

Set in one of those dilapidated country houses beloved by English novelists, After Me Comes the Flood manages to take all the familiar aspects of the traditional English novel (jam for tea, picnics, mistaken identities and grubby handkerchiefs) and make them unsettling. This is a novel that creeps. A novel that places a soft hand on your shoulder when you thought you were alone.

One of the creepier features of this book is the narration. At first glance it seems quite simple, John and an omniscient narrator share the telling; but in fact they both appear to be puppets for a third narrator. There are frequent references to the process of writing; how readers respond to plot twists and how writers struggle to realise their characters.

In what appears at first sight to be a straight-forward novel about mistaken identity; this habit of allowing a third narrator to peer out at the reader is very unsettling. Thankfully it only unsettles the reader, not the flow of the story.

Much of the press around After Me Comes the Flood has focused on Perry’s unusual upbringing; her parents were deeply religious and she was kept separate from contemporary culture. Perry maintains tight control of all her characters and the pace of the book is impressive; despite the sedate pace of John’s new life the plot briskly rattles along. Characters dart in and out of focus, drawing John further into their dysfunctional, highly-enthralling world.

We meet Hester, the ugly owner of the house and Alex, the beautiful troubled young man everyone else is enthralled with. His sister Claire, a child trapped in the body of a film-star, Eve, the talented, furious piano-player, her chain-smoking lover Walker and finally Elijah, the preacher who has lost his faith and is now terrified of going outside.

Much of the press around After Me Comes the Flood has focused on Perry’s unusual upbringing; her parents were deeply religious and she was kept separate from contemporary culture. Signs of this are present throughout the novel, especially through the lack of technology and Elijah’s loss of faith.

It’s impossible to read After Me Comes the Flood without noticing the motif of faith lost, found and refound. But this is not the most interesting aspect of the book and readers looking for a religious novel are advised to look elsewhere.

Instead we are presented with a determined novelist who has skillfully woven an alternative world for her characters. Everything is a little off-key, a little unsettling and as John’s time in the house draws to a close the reader is left in a delicious state of suspense and confusion over what will happen next.

Which makes for a slightly exhausting but deeply enthralling read!

(Live in London? You can catch Sarah Perry reading from After Me Comes the Flood at our 4th Birthday Party later this month…)