More than thousand years had washed over England since those days a civilisation had fallen and another had been reborn, and life went on in Addicot St George as if nothing had happened. The book starts with two important epigraphs The first from the historian Roger Ekirch s now I think well known discovery contention that biphasic sleep was the norm in the pre Industrial Revolution West The second is from Thomas Hardy s Mayor of Castlebridge where the Wessex soil is said to frequently reveal the bones of Roman soldiers from just before the sudden disappearance of the Empire and its culture and civilizing effects from Britain some 1500 years earlier.The book is set in 1468 a young priest Christopher Fairfax who serves the Bishop of Exeter at his cathedral, is instructed by him to travel to a small village to Cary out a discreet burial of the village priest Harris is a master of conjuring up a convincing account of past times and places be they Republican Rome the wonderful Cicero trilogy , early 20th Century France An Office and a Spy or pre war England Munich So among the convincing, earthy detail of Medieval England it is surprising to catch him in apparent anachronisms the common parakeet , or Fairfax observing that the local church has stood square on this land for at least a thousand years, likely fifteen hundred Are we in the realm of alternative history that launched his career in Fatherland.The actual explanation which comes only a few chapters in, is far impressive and at least as first extremely well executed It is also hard to discuss without spoilers not that that has prevented the mainstream papers so now would be a good time to stop the review and pick up the book instead The book is actually Harris s first voyage into post apocalyptical fiction and rather cleverly it is about a society which actually is explicitly ordered around the idea of living in a post apocalyptical world.Sometime in 2025 our current English and it is believed world civilization underwent a mysterious and sudden collapse Society took 100 or years to really put itself back together and when it did in a second Dark Age just like the first the achievements of the past civilization are seen as mysterious monuments mainly concrete structures and scattered artefacts The move to reform some form of functioning society revolves around the Church the stone churches that cover England offering some form of continuity and community but a Church which identifies the fall of 2025 as being of a hubristic, Godless society which had replaced faith with science The church marks 2025 as 666 and begins a new calendar, while also maintaining a stronghold on society with attempts to study the previous civilization and the concept of science both identified as heretical , with the English language rebuilt around the King James Bible.Perhaps less convincingly and with the author too influenced by his recent Conclave , Latin and Catholic traditions and beliefs also return England is only really aware of its immediate neighbours France and Scotland both of which it is regularly at war with, other countries are known as Saxony, although perhaps neatly there is also an Islamic Caliphate in the North of England.Once the clever set up of the book is revealed there is I think too much similarity between the new world and the mediaeval one The concept of history repeating itself or of revolution in its original meaning is I think overdone and unconvincing despite the author s acknowledgement It was as if the long recovery after the Apocalypse had stalled at the point civilization had reached two centuries before disaster struck Why Was it that there were certain basic patterns of human behaviour that were irreducible the need to grow food, to live in settlements, to worship God, to bear children and to educate them but that beyond these essentials a great leap was required to achieve the sort of world described in Morgenstern s letter, and such a leap had not been attempted Or it had been attempted at some point in the past, but had failed or been suppressed, and he had never heard of itThe actual plot of the book is an interesting one Fairfax quickly discovers that the priest was himself dealing in heretical ideas holding banned and believed burnt copies of the records of a suppressed Society of Antiquarians and obsessed with artefacts he was discovering in digs at a local landmark the Devil s Chair believed to be cursed by the superstitious locals The records refer to the discovery of a latter by an early 21st Century Nobel Prize winning Physicist worrying about the fragility of that society given its over reliance on technology and vulnerability to a number of threats climate change, nuclear event, pandemic but also catastrophic IT infrastructure failure and seeking to group together like minded influential people to find a way to restore society after such an event.Together with the owner of the local dilapidated mansion Lady Sarah Durston who owns the Devil s Chair, whose husband secretly collected artefacts he discovered there and who seemed to know of Morgenstern , the local mill owner Captain Hancock a headstrong character they decide to understand about what the Priest was investigating before his death Fairfax s involvement is the least convincing he rapidly discards in quick succession his duties, his beliefs and his vows flirting cruelly with the Priest s mute servant and then being himself seduced by Sarah.This in turn leads them to the two remaining members of the banned society the ageing Dr Nicholas Shadwell imprisoned for years and now branded with an H and his secretary Oliver Quycke who was released earlier than the other members and seems to have spoken to the Priest before his death and the group race against time to investigate the Devil s Chair before word gets to the authorities After a careful and intriguing set up the ending of the book is rather underwhelming, shedding little light either on 21st Century or new 15th Century events Overall an interesting book which ultimately does not live up to its moments of excellence but is still a worthwhile read like almost all of the author s books the Fear Index being the exception.Finally and appropriately I wrote this review between my own first sleep on a transatlantic flight and second sleep on arrival late in the evening in New York. Oh dear oh dear Don t get me wrong, genre crossovers, properly executed, can work really well but, being a copy editor, I fail to see how a post apocalyptic future could precisely resemble medieval England without any point of reference Not only that, the notion, repeated throughout, that our modern structures are insufficiently robust to survive 900 years into the future is nonsense Plus, I thought the ending was rubbish, but I m not going to spoil that for you.Robert Harris is one of the authors I have to read at pace , which is to say quickly Conclave and Munich were both excellent but not very much happened Ditto The Second Sleep In the latter, however, so little happened that I felt like I had been robbed, to say nothing of the aforesaid structural errors that transformed the whole thing into a farce It is possible to enjoy this book if you don t think overmuch about the logistics of the thing, probably Overall I feel like Harris s publishers let him have this one A debut author would never get away with this half baked bizarrely parakeet ridden pseudo satire Save your money. This is a book where spoilers are absolutely unavoidable if you want to write any sort of review, so I ll make the general observations upfront before getting into spoiler territory.This book is a very different animal from most Harris books I ve read It s very atmospheric and rather constrained, with most of the story being told in narration While written in the third person, we never leave Christopher Fairfax s head to see elements beyond his perception, and this absolutely works The style is vaguely claustrophobic and unsettling but never drifts into actually being scary The only issue here is that Harris has an unfortunate tendency to overuse the pronoun he in conversations between two male characters, leading to a certain amount of confusion Dialogue flows naturally but doesn t predominate.And that s really all that can be said before dashing into spoiler territory It s an odd book where the biggest twist comes before page 40.Ready Last chance to turn back.Don t say I didn t warn you view spoiler The whole scenario turns upside down once we ve gotten into the interval between his first and second sleep Biphastic sleep is what this refers to, and it was apparently the normal way humans slept until the industrial revolution two periods of nightly sleep bisected by a period of wakefulness As Christopher is taking this atmospheric moment to review the contents of a dead priests library he notices heretical artifacts antiquarian books, dangerous texts, plastic, some sort of paganistic sculpture, an iPhone And that s when you realize you ve been had It s not 1468, it s something like 2827.That s right You blew it up, damn you Damn you all to hell It s a pretty well unveiled reveal The whole thing is discussed so casually that you have to do a double take and reread the last sentence carefully The question quickly becomes whether that s just stupid or if there s something behind it I ve read the book and I m honestly still not sure Is it clever to hide the apocalyptic future behind a pseudomedieval cover for 40 pages What s the point Just to confound reviewers and cover blurb writers who have to pretend this is all a medieval adventure The reason I accept it is perhaps because it is so mundane a reveal We hear of some things that we didn t see before eyeglasses, dynamite, pocketwatches but we re not in a whole new world now that the revelation has been made It still feels like the same setting In fact, if you were paying attention you ll have noticed oddities beforehand a grandfather clock in the house, parakeets, 1500 year old churches built 32 BC It helps that we only see the world in shadows until after we know.I never lost my doubts, but the world does work within the context of the story It s fundamentally interesting to see priests and other Medieval personages picking through documents and digging up ruins And to combine that with a Horizon Zero Dawn type uncovering of the past is great They do this investigating against the will of the reborn church who holds, not unreasonably, that the apocalypse was due to mankind s sin of pride Electricity as heresy is a new one on me Harris is a good enough author to make this world work too The church is not just some dread organization of inquisitors, they re a response to the greatest disaster of all time The world is not an apocalyptic hell, it s one that recovered somewhat and is regaining its feet That makes it an interesting place to visit.It helps that the characters are good too, from the doubtful priest to the determined widow and the budding factory owner I enjoyed meeting these people and coming to understand their place in all this.I do have some qualms I do not believe for a moment that history repeats itself Running themes do, errors remanifest, each generation has to reassert itself against the old, but that s a long way from repeating the middle ages down to almost the last detail The logic here is that all of modern society is built to be temporary, so we can replace it with the next big thing Skyscrapers will collapse, glass windows will break, the Cloud will go down and take all of mankind s vast knowledge with it All that will be left are the old stone buildings that were made to last Fine as far as it goes, but who will come out on top during those early struggles as civilization collapses The Church, sure, I can see that People need something to believe in Latin I ve a harder time with, but I can believe the rest But who will the most powerful warlords be Those who can harness whatever technology they can recover and direct it towards killing people Expect poison gas, explosives, tanks, rockets, revolvers, to stick around Oh, and electricity too, since they ll need that to power their war machines The devices they build won t be as good as what we have, but they d hardly be lost either We should have a much eclectic world than merely Middle Ages II The Sleepening hide spoiler History through heresyIt s 1468, and young priest Christopher Fairfax is hurrying to reach the village of Addicott St George before curfew He has been sent by his bishop to officiate at the funeral of the village s priest, Father Lacy, who has died in a fall from the local landmark known as the Devil s Chair But once installed at the rectory, Christopher discovers that Father Lacy had been a collector of antiquities, some of them prohibited by the Church, and he soon has reason to wonder if there may be something sinister behind the old priest s deathBut that isn t really what the book s about And I can t tell you properly what it is about, since that would spoil it Makes writing a review kinda tricky Suffice it to say, there s a layer of depth that takes this beyond being a standard historical fiction novel There are elements of apocalypse and dystopia, though I wouldn t label the book as falling strictly into those categories either It has as much to say about the present as the past, although we never visit the present.Christopher has spent his young life in the Church, sent there as a boy to train in the priesthood This is his first real venture into the world beyond the limits of the cathedral town he calls home, and he soon finds that the world outside has temptations, not simply of the body but of the mind Heresy, he finds, is a slippery slope somehow the forbidden exerts a pull on his mind, and the he discovers, the he begins to question all that he has been taught Are the strict rules the Church forces on the population designed to save their souls, or simply to give the Church a stranglehold on power At the same time, he is beginning to question his personal vocation his faith is not in question, but as he becomes open to new thoughts and feelings, he wonders if he is able to go on preaching a religion he is beginning to question.And he s not alone in his questioning Others have dabbled in what the Church calls heresy, although the punishments are brutal Some tread a fine line, trying to disguise their research into the forbidden areas of the past as anti heretical warnings Church and state are inextricably linked, and those who fall out of favour with one must suffer the penalties imposed by the other As always, Robert Harris has the ability to create settings which have the feel of total authenticity Here, there s an added layer of subtlety as we discover that it s all not quite as straightforward as it first appears, and he handles the ambiguity wonderfully, making it a thought provoking read I also find his writing so smooth and effortless seeming that the actual act of reading is pure pleasure I find him a very visual writer he doesn t go off into extravagantly poetic descriptions, but nevertheless I always end up feeling that I know the places and societies he s shown me as well as if I d visited them And even when he s making a point , he never beats us over the head with it he respects his readers to think it through for themselves.As you ll have gathered, I loved this one another rung on the ladder that is rapidly helping him climb to the very top of my favourite author heap.NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Hutchinson www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com Started well, but petered off somewhat Loved the premise and well written as always. There s a reason why Robert Harris is a contender for my favourite author of all time and The Second Sleep reminds me why I want to say as little as possible about this wonderful novel that challenges completely readers expectations and assumptions It is not what you think it is I would urge you not to read any reviews of this book as you want to go in knowing as little as possible Review to follow shortly on For Winter Nights. I take some trouble to avoid major plot spoilers in my reviews, but in this one I m having to avoid giving away the premise, which is tricky It s the year 1468 and a priest named Christopher Fairfax travels on horseback from Exeter Cathedral to a remote Exmoor village The parish priest there, Father Lacey, has just died and he is to oversee the arrangements.Fairfax becomes intrigued by the manner of Lacey s death and by the lady of the manor, the widowed Lady Durston He learns that Lacey had a fascination for excavating relics of the past, and for reading heretical texts He becomes drawn into the mystery of how and why Lacey died He knows this could place him at odds with the teachings of the church, but still he begins to conspire with Lady Durston and others who he believes are sympathetic.However, all is not quite as it seems in this village There are odd anomalies At first you wonder if the copy editor briefly dozed off, but then you understand what Harris is doing.There are some thought provoking ideas in The Second Sleep For me, though, the story doesn t have the thrills or the pace you normally expect from Harris Perhaps this is because of the setting There is a nice twist in the end but you have to travel at the pace of a horse to get there I received a copy of The Second Sleep from the publisher via Netgalley.Read of my reviews on my blog katevane.com blog You start reading this book and all of a sudden you think hold on a minute, there s something wrong here Then you continue on reading and you think nah, big mistake Then you continue on reading and think ah, now I get it It s that kind of a book.What you can say after reading this book is that whatever the era, the acquisition of knowledge is always the means to an end, be it gaining and consolidating power and controlling people by what you know and they don t, making things better for others, personal gain and wealth or simply satisfying curiosity Knowledge is power but can also be dangerous In that sense this book also holds up a mirror to the world we live in today and its dangers and where it might lead us.This book is a typical Robert Harris book in the sense that it has a fairly slow start but it pulls you in chapter by chapter and becomes a real page turner, even though you couldn t call this a thriller as such.The open end has me quietly hoping that there might be a sequel. All Civilisations Think They Are Invulnerable History Warns Us None Is A Young Priest, Christopher Fairfax, Arrives In A Remote Exmoor Village To Conduct The Funeral Of His Predecessor The Land Around Is Strewn With Ancient Artefacts Coins, Fragments Of Glass, Human Bones Which The Old Parson Used To Collect Did His Obsession With The Past Lead To His Death As Fairfax Is Drawn Deeply Into The Isolated Community, Everything He Believes About Himself, His Faith And The History Of His World Is Tested To Destruction Another great read by Robert Harris, right up until the end Disappointing ending.
ROBERT HARRIS is the author of nine best selling novels Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost Writer, Conspirata, The Fear Index, and An Officer and a Spy Several of his books have been adapted to film, most recently The Ghost Writer, directed by Roman Polanski His work has been translated into thirty seven languages He lives in the village of Kintbury, England, with his
- Kindle Edition
- 330 pages
- The Second Sleep
- Robert Harris
- 24 October 2017 Robert Harris