Monday, 17 May 2010
The Hopkins Manuscript (Sherriff)
It was with great sadness that I finished reading the last of the 88 Persephone books on my way home from London at the weekend. The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sherriff was the last one that I came to. I am not quite sure why it ended up at the bottom of the pile, particularly as I had so much enjoyed Sherriff's Fortnight in September when I read it last year. I think perhaps it was because its sci-fi/dystopian themes are ones which I would normally shy away from in literature. But because it was a Persephone book I read it, and I am very glad that I had the opportunity to do so.
The manuscript referred to in the title was written by Edgar Hopkins, a 53 year old ex-school master, and was composed in order to record a series of terrifying events that faced the earth. Hopkins is content with his life in the small village of Beadle, rearing poultry for competitions and occasionally going up to town to meetings of the Royal Lunar Society. As a result of his membership of the group, he is among the first to discover that the moon is gradually moving closer to the earth and is estimated to collide with it in 7 months time. Initially this discovery is kept a secret, in order to protect the population, but it is then announced and the country has to come to terms with its imminent decimation and the likely end of the world. There is an admirable sense of "blitz spirit" with which preparations are made, and one of the things that made the book so readable for me was that Sherrif describes ordinary life and details and how the average person is affected by the impending disaster.
Like The expendable man, I don't want to reveal any more about the plot (although the majority of the reviews that I've seen on librarything and Amazon do); I'll leave it up to you to read the text. But if you want a tense, dramatic and extremely compelling read, then even if science fiction isn't your poison of choice, then I would strongly recommend this novel. It's not one that I have ever seen reviewed on a blog or ever heard anyone talk about, which is a shame
Persephone republished the novel in part as a comment on global warming, which they believe to be one of the greatest catastrophes facing the world today, and it is interesting to read the book in this context and to consider how society today might react to the catastrophe that Hopkins and his contemporaries faced.
And what will I do now that I've read all of the Persephones? Well, I've still got 9 more to collect, and there are some that I would like very much to re-read, especially following reading people's reviews during the Persephone Reading Week, particularly, Greenery Street, The new house, Family roundabout and all of Dorothy Whipple. The Persephone bookshop also have a wonderful table of "50 books we wish we had published"; as the Persephone imprint is a great endorsement of a good read, I may have to have a read of some of those (although I noticed that I had read quite a number already)