To begin with I’d like to say something about the look of this book. There is real enticement with the hardback edition. It looks irresistible and I don’t exactly know why. It has the look of something half-remembered from my childhood or a book I once saw someone reading but was too young to read myself. There is a kind of (probably false) nostalgia about the book. This is to do with the cover, the colours, the fonts used even and the almost lurid green volume once the dust cover is slipped off, in fact the whole feel of the book. Well done to Scribe for creating a sense of magic with this debut novel. This is one book I would not want to read on an e-reader.
Inside this sense of half-remembered echoes of something feels appropriate as an air of mystery and enigma hovers over “The Sacred Combe”. Following the breakdown of his marriage, Samuel Browne is lured by an odd job advertisement to a country house, quitting his job as a banker and beginning work on a repetitive search in the house’s impressive library. The current owner, Dr Arnold Comberbache, together with the other characters who reside in or visit the house have a timeless quality about them. Rooted in the past, they encourage Browne with his search, a task which seems empty and fruitless amidst the greatest written works and yet is one which draws in the reader. This is an intelligent, well-written book where mountain climbing, science, romanticism and literary fraud all play a part. The sense of unreality does persist. The house’s very existence seems secret and the characters do not seem to be part of the modern world with preoccupations which would have seem more fitting for their ancestors. Browne is drawn into their world.
But was I? Well yes, but not consistently as at times I felt I needed to care more for the characters and the ramifications of Browne’s quest. I can tell that this is an impressive debut and I will be fascinated to see what Thomas Maloney comes up with next. I think that this is a book which will cause many readers to fall under its spell without really knowing why and that is some achievement for a novelist.
The Sacred Combe is published by Scribe in May 2016