After Me Comes the Flood – Sarah Perry: Review & Recommend | ELLIE LOVES

A couple of years ago now, I read and loved The Essex Serpent, and I have since bought, read, and enjoyed Melmoth. So, when I saw After Me Comes the Flood in my local Waterstones (the first and only time I’ve been in a book shop since March!) I had to pick it up.

Sarah Perry is known for her mysterious writing, which wasn’t something that was quite as present in After Me Comes the Flood as it was in Melmoth and The Essex Serpent. Our protagonist, John Coles, leaves his home one day, finds himself mistaken for Jon Coules, and is invited to live with a group of total strangers who all believe him to be somebody he is not. The main mystery of this book really is the identity of this group of strangers — which I won’t be giving away!

This book is a bit shorter than her others, if I remember right, and it does show a bit. The book is much less plot-heavy, and the many characters don’t get fleshed out as much as I would perhaps like. Some of the group blurred together a bit for me, possibly because we are introduced to them all at the same time and it becomes a bit overwhelming. Maybe that’s a me problem, but I find it a bit tricky sometimes when characters all appear at once. John, Clare and Alex were the only characters that particularly stood out to me, with the others less well developed, and generally less interesting.

This is Sarah Perry’s debut novel and, for a debut, the writing style is really impressive. For me, the writing style itself was my favourite part of this book, and it was interesting to see how Perry’s characters and plots have developed and strengthened since her debut. It flows beautifully, and the atmosphere she creates is simultaneously dream-like, ominous, surreal and claustrophobic (as many other reviews have noted). I do, however, think this book could have been greatly improved had it been longer. Having a longer narrative would have offered more chance to fill in the character’s back stories. Perry does offer some background, but I found it too vague and confusing, and struggled to really connect these flashback/historic elements to the present day characters.

Unlike the other Sarah Perry novels I’ve read, I didn’t feel that engaged or involved in the text. The Essex Serpent was practically un-put-downable, and Melmoth was beautifully creepy and folkloric. After Me Comes the Flood lacked something for me in that regard. I didn’t feel like I was struggling to get through it, or desperate to get to the end like I have seen some people say, but I didn’t feel a pull to pick the book back up like I usually do with Sarah Perry’s work. As I said before, the prose was what stood out to me, and it was mostly that that kept me reading. Had the characters been better developed, and their identities revealed slowly, over the course of an extended version of this book, I think this could be as strong as her other books. The premise is really interesting, and the themes it explores are also well thought out and intriguing.

Despite these critiques I have, there is definitely something haunting about this book. I want to know more about the characters: I want to understand them, to get inside their heads and unravel their mysteries. I want to know more about the significance of the ending, because I find myself dwelling on it. I want to know more about John — why he decided to just close his shop and leave. What happened to trigger the inciting event? I recognise that this seems somewhat contradictory, saying I wanted to know more about the characters but then saying the lack of information about the characters has left a lasting impression, but I think perhaps there is a fine line that Sarah Perry just isn’t quite managing to tread. A bit more information, without giving everything away, just enough information to keep the audience engaged while still holding onto the excellent atmosphere created would do a lot for this book.

Overall, this definitely wasn’t Sarah Perry’s best work but, for a debut novel, it is bold and even in some regards impressive. It is unfair to compare this to The Essex Serpent, which was a really big hit because they are both very different books, and Perry’s writing has developed and improved considerably since her debut. While I didn’t love this book, it definitely wouldn’t put me off buying more by Sarah Perry in future, because of how strong her prose is, and how much her plots and characters have been elevated since After Me Comes the Flood.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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