I have read and enjoyed a number of books by Robert Harris. The Second Sleep is his latest. As in all his novels the theme of power is at the centre.
It is Tuesday 9th of April 1468. Christopher Fairfax, a young priest, is travelling to a village in Wessex on the orders of his Bishop. He has been sent to conduct the burial service of Father Lacey the village priest. He is travelling on horseback along muddy tracks. Houses are lit by candle light and 3 bodies are hanging from gibbets. He is terrified he will be caught by the Sheriff’s curfew if he travels too late into the night. He wants to conclude his business quickly so he can return home as soon as possible. It is a typical medieval scene.
So for a while you believe you are in the 15th century but things are about to change when Fairfax delves into the dead priest’s affairs. He finds a display cabinet full of illegal artefacts. It is then you discover the truth of this historical time. He sees on the shelves, toy bricks, bank notes and plastic bottles. He also discovers ‘devices used by the Ancients to communicate’. On its back is an apple with a bite taken out of it!
So it is not the 15th Century as we know it but part of a new calendar starting the year 666. Harris’s new World is built around the power of the Church, and the King’s sheriffs. “Scientism”, the curse of the Ancients, is a heresy, a mortal sin. It is believed the destruction of scientific and technological society was caused by the mythological horsemen of the Apocalypse. Medical and scientific advances have been lost. It is as if the Industrial Revolution never happened.
People had not dared to question or challenge these beliefs but with this huge discovery Fairfax is drawn to investigate deeper.
The story is his journey to uncover the truth, hampered by his brutish frightening Bishop. He meets various characters on the way. He has an intimate relationship with Lady Durston and this in turn tests his vow of celibacy.
Although I did not think this was his best novel, it is thought provoking. Farfetched on one level and frighteningly close on another. It definitely left me questioning the fragility and the vulnerability of this technological world we live in.
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