After Me Comes the Flood is an eerie book. In it we meet John Cole who, during a long heatwave in London, leaves his bookshop to visit his brother unannounced in Norfolk. On his drive he becomes more dazed because of the heat and he stops near a forest. He stumbles upon a house, feeling faint, and is more than surprised to find that the residents there seem to have been waiting for him to arrive.
Sarah Perry is obviously very influenced by her childhood ‘immersed in classic literature’ (as noted on the cover), because our protagonist finds himself in a very old English house with a bunch of eccentric characters. At times the novel, especially at the beginning, reminded me of Ishiguro’s dreamlike The Unconsoled, where the narrator finds himself in strange situations and is often unable to speak up, as in a nightmare. But After Me Comes the Flood feels a little more forced than that, which is fair enough: The Unconsoled wasn’t a first novel. John Cole finds out that he isn’t the real houseguest, and that they just have similar names, by answering the phone to the real houseguest, which I found a little forced. John Cole is the one who has to answer the phone to go on living there and we have to know this for the story to progress, but I found it a few too many coincidences.
The prose alternates between John Cole’s diary and third-person narration. I found this rather jarring at first but it did offer a different perspective on John’s surroundings. The people who John is in this strange house with are themselves a strange bunch. The blurb promises that the book is psychologically complex, but apart from the short-lived intrigue after which we learn that these are people who used to be in a mental institution, there isn’t much probing into the minds of the characters. I would have liked more background on them because they were a bit more interesting than John, the protagonist.
The writing is fine: there was perhaps a little too much description for my tastes, but it flowed well. I just felt that After Me Comes the Flood was a little bland, a little tame; I wanted it to do more. But I would read more by Sarah Perry in the future. If reading so many debut novels recently has taught me anything, it’s that there is so much to get right when writing a book. Perry does well at many aspects but maybe the reason this fell flat for me is that I’m expecting too much from a first novel. But my longlist reading experience is over now and I’ll sum up my thoughts about this in my next post.