Enlightenment by Sarah Perry

Enlightenment by Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry returns to the locale of her hit novel (and TV series) The Essex Serpent to deliver another deep, dazzling book. Enlightenment takes place over three time periods and concerns itself with a historical mystery so that it becomes, like the comets that come into the narrative, an elliptical tale. While linear on the surface there are echoes and resonances through the text and musings on the nature of time itself.

Enlightenment opens in 1997 and centres on the character of Thomas Hart “a man of Essex, for his sins”. Fifty-year-old Hart lives in the town of Aldleigh, works for the local newspaper and is connected to a fundamentalist Baptist church in town. Hart is gay but he keeps that part of his persona separate, allowing it to emerge only on his trips up to London. Through the newspaper, Hart becomes interested in astronomy and then a mystery and possible ghost associated from an old manor called Lowlands House. And through this he makes a connection with the local librarian James Bower. The story also revolves around Grace Macaulay, seventeen when the book opens who was the reason that Hart stayed in Aldleigh at all, determined to help care for the child whose mother died in childbirth.

Enlightenment is written in a fairly old-fashioned style and so takes some time to get going. But once Perry has the pieces in place, it becomes entrancing. A heady mix of ideas, mystery (and discovery) and character. Hart moves from the mysteries of the night sky to the mysteries of physics, while not being able to see his impact on the people around him. He stumbles through his relationship with Grace, trying to protect her while also struggling with his own relationships. And all the while the mystery of the woman from Lowlands House slowly unravels through letters and chance discoveries.

Perry draws on her own childhood and her family involvement in a local fundamentalist church in the construction of Enlightenment. But this just adds a richness to the narrative rather than a feeling that Perry herself is trying to find some form of personal catharsis.

Enlightenment is the full package – thematically rich, peopled by rounded and fascinating characters with deep inner lives, engaged in a centuries old mystery set in a well realised milieu.

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Enlightenment by Sarah Perry

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Wrap Up

Enlightenment by Sarah Perry



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