The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again review: There’s something in the water

Books, Reviews

Shaw is having a mid-life crisis. Or he’s had one and missed it… He’s not quite sure, but either way he’s trying to get his life back on track with his new London apartment, new job and new relationship with Victoria. However, as he starts to settle into his work at a makeshift office on a derelict old barge, he begins to notice something strange in the water. Not only that but others have noticed the water too and some people are even convinced they see creatures whenever they visit the toilet…

Miles away, as Victoria is busy conducting a renovation of the family home in Shropshire, she too begins to notice the water and the strange behaviour of the locals. Even stranger is the fact that the answer to all this, it seems, may have something to do with the town’s obsession with the Victorian fairytale, The Water Babies.

John Harrison’s first novel in seven years, The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again is not heavy on plot. Instead, it is a carefully crafted reflection of real life, where there are no heroes or villains, and there is no exciting ‘incident’ that kicks off a definitive three-act structure. The protagonists just ‘are’ – they exist in a world where things don’t really happen to them, but around them. Despite them being at the centre of their own story, they can’t shake the feeling that they’re missing out on something.

Harrison is a linguistic artist, constructing sentences that wrap and weave like a stream of consciousness without ever breaking focus. He has an innate ability to transport the reader to a pinpoint location and imbue them with not just the spirit and the history of the place, but to envelop them with an atmosphere so tangible that you feel like you have been a resident for many years.

The experience of reading this book is not unlike dining at a Michelin star restaurant, it is a feast of words, which for some readers will be the meal they have been craving, where every sentence is a decadent bite of a new sensation. Whereas for others, the intricate artistry and craftmanship may create a barrier to what should be a simple dish, leaving them struggling to connect.

Either way, Harrison has successfully created a novel that is almost a mood piece, leaving the reader to draw their own interpretations and conclusions to the ideas and events happening within it. He merely guides your eye, leaving you to confront the things and the people that slip between the cracks and seem to exist only in the periphery of our own lives.

The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again by John Harrison is out now.

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