I received a copy of this book from the publisher (Orbit US/Redhook) in exchange for an honest review.
I know that life isn’t.
But stories are. Or if they’re not fair, they’re not fair with purpose.
I wish I could tell better where stories end and life begins.
Sometimes you just need to escape into a good book. But if you’re Charles Sutherland, sometimes you inadvertently facilitate the escape of fictional characters into the real world. Imagine being able to read out your favorite character from a story and have an actual conversation with them. That sounds like a dream come true for most bookworms, but it’s been a nightmare that Rob, Charley’s big brother and our first person perspective character, has spent his life trying to avoid. He’s had to clean up Charley’s fictional messes a multitude of times throughout his life, but the current fictional mess they find themselves in is the zaniest and more far reaching, and frankly the most dangerous, that the Sutherland family has ever faced. Their world is going to be changed forever if they can’t figure out a way to thwart what’s coming.
“That’s the danger of stories… They bring things into the world, and they can’t be put away again.”
When I first started reading this book, I was strongly reminded of some of my favorite pieces of children’s fiction, most specifically Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. That book also involves the reading out of fictional characters from their books. However, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep takes this concept a few steps further. Whereas the characters in Inkheart came from an imaginary book of the same name, Parry used real books and real characters from them to populate her fictional cast. We have Dorian Gray and Heathcliff, the White Witch from Narnia and Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Sherlock Holmes and five different incarnations of Mr. Darcy and a plethora of Dickensian characters who make themselves known in this novel. It was a delightful inclusion that made me actually want to read more Dickens, especially David Copperfield and Great Expectations. I’ve only ever read Oliver Twist, Bleak House, and A Christmas Carol, but I now find myself looking forward to remedying that lack.
“If you’re wanting some sort of theory about what we’re made of, old thing, that’s the best I can do. We’re half words, and half thought.”
“The point where language and interpretation meet…”
I also deeply appreciated how much textual interpretation influenced the appearance and character of any fictional entity read from the page into reality. While each character took on a life of the their own once they were read into being, their identity was shaped by how their reader viewed them. I love that Parry used this to show how radically two people can view the same character, and how that dichotomy can completely change how different people understand the same story. And yet, each character who appeared in this book felt very true to their character in their original work, and often quoted either themselves or their author, which was a delightful inclusion. So while interpretation definitely matters, it can’t change the core of the character as written by the author. Also, the fact that certain characters were summoned by readers who only ever had this one moment of connection to and clarity regarding a fictional character was a fun addition, because that means that everyone is capable of magically connecting to a novel. It’s a lovely thought that I firmly believe is representative of the truth about reading; it really is for everyone, and there’s no magic quite like it.
“…you know when you read a book, sometimes, and you suddenly realize that you’ve been missing something your whole life, and you weren’t even aware, and all at once you’ve found it and are just a little bit more whole?”
This is one of the first books I’ve ever read that was set in New Zealand and written by an author native to the area, which added a fun element that I didn’t know I’d be getting from this book. The settings, both of the Wellington of reality and the fictional Street that hides within it, were very atmospheric. The Dickensian Street was incredibly easy to visualize, and I can see why so many fictional refugees made their way to said Street and settled there. I also loved how these characters built their own motley family, and how tightly knit they were.
“This street is complicated, isn’t it?”
“Thousands of years of the written word, filtered through countless readerships… How can it not be?”
Both Parry’s original characters and those she pulled from other works of fiction were delightful and uniquely their own. However, I have to confess that it took me a while to connect to Rob, Charley’s brother and our only first person perspective character. He seemed so irrationally close-minded and judgmental when it came to Charley and what he could do that I couldn’t bring myself to like him. However, he truly grew as the story progressed and as Parry showed us more and more the reasoning behind his mentality. While he still wasn’t my favorite by the end of the book, I did appreciate and respect him. But Charley takes the cake. He is one of the most precious characters I’ve come across in adult fiction, and I just wanted to both protect and delight in him.
“Truth, at least complete truth, isn’t held in words. But there can be no truth at all without them. It lies behind them and lurks around them and shines through them, in glimpses of metaphor, and connotation, and story.”
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is such a fun ode to books. Books about books always spark joy in me, and this particular book fanned that spark into a cheery and inviting fire. Stories matter, and Parry’s debut celebrates that fact. If you’re a lover of the written word and believe that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book, this book is so definitely for you.
You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!