A review copy received from the publisher, Orbit UK, in exchange for an honest review.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.
Genre: Fantasy, mystery
First published: 23rd July 2019 by Redhook (US) and Orbit (UK)
How many of us readers have experienced the kind of immersion and connection to a story, its setting or its characters, which made us wish that it could be real? I’d gander a guess that it covers pretty much all of us. H.G. Parry’s marvellous debut novel, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, perfectly illustrates the magic of stories and words on a page.
“That’s how the story works, the way the sentence and metaphor and reference feeds into the other to illuminate something important. That explosion of discovery, of understanding, is the most intoxicating moment there is. Emotional, intellectual, aesthetic. Just for a moment, a perfect moment, a small piece of the world makes perfect sense. And it’s beautiful. It’s a moment of pure joy, the kind that brings pleasure like pain.”
Pardon the long quote above, but it was such an excellent description of why we love to read that it has to be shared. The basis of the story in The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is exactly how that perfect connection can result in a reader pulling a literary character out of the book into the real world. That magic arising from reading a story that resonated completely with your heart and mind. I loved this concept which superbly depicted in the book; reading it was tremendously enjoyable.
The real world setting was modern Wellington, New Zealand and the story centred around two brothers, Robert and Charles Sutherland. Charles is the prodigy of the family and the one who has the uncanny ability to summon characters and even important objects out of books. The narrative was written mainly in the first person perspective of Robert, who came across as too protective of his brother – sometimes to the point of being quite irritating in my opinion. I wasn’t particularly fond of Robert for quite a while, even though I did sort of understand his reasons. Charles, on the other hand, was simply precious. How could one not adore a character whose home overflows with books, and would perhaps occasionally leave one in the fridge absent-mindedly.
The fictional characters and their setting are decidedly Victorian, specifically Dickensian given that is Charles’ specialisation. One of the ‘shortcomings’ of my reading repertoire had been the lack of adult classics which I’ve been trying to address in the last couple of years; Dickens was definitely one of those which I’ve yet to read. I have to say that after reading this, I am most keen to read David Copperfield and Great Expectations – both which featured prominently in the narrative. I was so glad that I’ve read enough in the last couple of years to at least identify with and relate to several of the literary characters like Dorian Gray, Mr Darcy, Dr Frankenstein and Sherlock Holmes (well, this last one came from mainly from watching the superb TV series since I’ve only read A Study of Scarlet so far). One of the remarkable achievements of Parry’s writing of these characters was the fact that I didn’t feel alienated by the characters or books which I was not familiar with. The well-written narrative enabled me, as a reader who hasn’t read Dickens, to appreciate said author’s writing and his commentary around social injustices during the Victorian era.
Let’s see if the extract below doesn’t make you want to read David Copperfield.
“The opening lines of David Copperfield may be the most perfect in the history of literature; certainly they are among the most well-known, and the most well-loved. Because they are all our opening lines. They are how our stories all begin.
“Chapter One. I am Born. Whether I shall turn out to be hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.””
The author wrote this book as a love letter to literary analysis. All readers, critics or otherwise, perform some kind of analysis of our own when we read a book. The way we view or form the characters in our minds, or the commentary or allegory or themes that the author was trying to communicate through the story. This is why there is not a single book out there which is for every reader. Our personal experiences and preferences will necessary shape our view and interpretation or analysis of the narrative. As such, the fictional characters who have been pulled from books have different nuances about them depending on the reader who did it – intentionally or otherwise. (I found this to be such an important message to all readers out there. No two persons read a book in exactly the same way. Opinions differ – so let’s all agree to disagree at some point or another.)
What this means in the book is that these literary characters that we know might not completely conform to our own understanding. The best illustration of this was that there were five incarnations of Mr Darcy, each shaped a bit differently by their respective readers. The best part, however, was how Parry maintained the core characterisation of each of these Mr Darcy. The voice of each character in this book remains true to how they were written by the author. Sometimes even quoting themselves from the books; which makes for some really funny moments when put in context. In the case of Dorian Gray, he thoroughly personified the flamboyance of Oscar Wilde. As Oscar Wilde was one of my favourite author, Dorian was one of my favourite characters from the book.
“I don’t really do living or daylight,” Dorian said. “I’m a Gothic masterpiece.”
The importance of words, stories and books was not the only significant theme in this narrative. Brotherly love forms the emotional backbone of Robert and Charles’ story. It was enough to make me tear up a bit towards the end.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is a magical, delightfully clever and fun celebration of books. I’ve not read many books about books yet, but I can safely recommend this to pretty much all bibliophiles, who appreciate stories about the wonder of reading.