I wish I could use some other voice to write this story down. I wish I could take all the books that I’ve loved best and borrow better words than these, but I’ve got to make do with an empty notebook and a man who never had a tale to tell and doesn’t know how to begin except with the beginning…
John Cole is sitting at an old school desk, in a stranger’s room, writing a diary. The notebook in which he’s writing has the name ‘EADWACER’ along the bottom of the pages, a name that Cole recognises but can’t place. He writes his own name in the book, one that’s similar to the name written on the boxes residing in the room: Jon Coules.
John Cole has arrived at this strange house having tried to leave London to visit his brother on the thirteenth day of a drought. The heat has affected his mind and having found himself lost somewhere between London and Norwich, he comes across the house where they seem to know him by name and are expecting him.
They are Clare, her brother Alex, Elijah, Walker, Eve and Hester, the mother figure:
I never think much about appearance, my own or anyone else’s, and I don’t think I’d ever thought of someone as ugly before. But for her it’s the only word that will do.
They each have a story. Alex’s is prominent as he’s being tormented by anonymous letters that arrive at the house sporadically.
At the end of the first chapter, Jon Coules telephones the house. John Coles takes the call – his chance to tell the rest of the group that he’s not who they think he is – but he never passes the message on and continues to stay on at the house for a full week, a week in which a serious incident will lead to the unravelling of everyone’s stories.
After Me Comes the Flood moves between John Coles’ first person narration and third person subjective narratives that place the reader alongside several of the other characters in the house. What’s most interesting about this are the viewpoints Perry chooses not to allow us access to as these are where the biggest disparities between appearance and actuality lie.
The novel hinges on the idea of the persona we present to others versus who we really are:
‘Look, she doesn’t mean what she says. Nobody ever does…it’s just she needs to be heard saying the right things. She must have the correct feelings. D’you see?’
It suggests that we all have reasons to mask elements of our personality or behaviours and some of those reasons are very dark indeed.
After Me Comes the Flood is a superb novel. The prose isn’t showy but the sentences are constructed in a way that brings an ethereal quality to the narrative: the order of the words seems more akin to a novel written a century or so ago but feel neither dated nor modern, it’s quite unusual but compelling in its own way.
Sarah Perry’s created a novel that stands to the side of current literature; this is a good thing! It’s unusual and oddly gripping while dealing with universal issues. I’m so impressed with it, I wish I’d written it.