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Excerpt from Enlightenment by Sarah Perry, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Sarah Perry

Enlightenment by Sarah Perry X
Enlightenment by Sarah Perry
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  • Published:
    Jun 2024, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Isabella Zhou
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Print Excerpt


Monday: late winter, bad weather. The River Alder, fattened by continuous rain, went in a spate through Aldleigh and beyond it, taking carp and pike and pages torn from pornographic magazines past war memorials and pubs and new industrial parks, down to the mouth of the Blackwater and on in due course to the sea. Toppled shopping trolleys glistened on the riverbank; so also did unwanted wedding rings, and beer cans, and coins struck by empires in the years of their decline. Herons paced like white-coated orderlies in the muddy reeds; and at half past four a fisherman caught a cup untouched since the ink was wet on The Battle of Maldon, spat twice, and threw it back.

Late winter, bad weather, the town oppressed by clouds as low as a coffin lid. A place spoken of in passing, if at all: neither Boudicca nor Wat Tyler had given it a second glance when they took their vengeances to London; and war had reached it only as an afterthought, when a solitary Junkers discharged the last of its ordnance and extinguished four souls without notice.

Thomas Hart was at his desk in the offices of the Essex Chronicle, surveying the town through a dissolving window. At that hour and from that vantage, lights appeared as fires set by travelers that crossed a soaking fen: strip lights in the shoe shops and newsagent's not yet shuttered for the night, and in the cinema and bowling alley opening for business two miles out of town; lamplight in the bar of the Jackdaw and Crow, and streetlights coming on down London Road.

A man of fifty, Thomas Hart, and a man of Essex, for his sins: tall, and retaining as much hair as he had at forty, which is to say more above the collar than the brow. Dressed, as has always been his habit, in clothes chosen to be admired by the observant—a jacket, single-breasted, in Harris Tweed; a white shirt cuffed with silver links; a tie of oatmeal knitted silk. A face he does not deceive himself is handsome, but understands to be memorable: the nose not symmetrical, but of a pleasing emphatic size; the eyes large, direct, and approaching green. An air altogether of occupying a time not his own—might he be more at ease in an Edwardian dining room, say, or on a pitching clipper's deck? Very likely.

Thomas was surveying an object on his desk. Two leather disks about the diameter of his own hand were fastened with a tarnished pin; the lower disk was painted blue and mottled with markings he couldn't have made out even if he'd been inclined to try. The blue showed through a large hole cut in the upper part, and gilded letters at the rim showed the months of the year, and the days of the month, and the hours of the day. Thomas touched it as if it carried a contagious disease. "What," he said, "do you imagine I should do with this?"

A younger man was sitting at the edge of the desk, swinging his foot. With the downcast gaze of the guilty he turned the upper disk with his finger. The hole moved. The blue persisted. "It belonged to my father," he said. "I thought you might make something of it." Nick Carleton, editor of the Chronicle and grieving son, looked with unconcealed amusement around the small office, which—despite the plastic venetian blinds and the computer's hard drive humming as it labored at its work; despite the twentieth century wearing itself out on the pavements three floors down—gave the impression that at any moment a gramophone might strike up a Schubert lieder.

"I was sorry," said Thomas gravely, "to hear of your loss. The death of a father," he said, frowning at the window, "is at the same time both quite proper in the order of things, and incomprehensibly stupid."

"I never saw him use it," said Carleton, containing tears, "and I don't know how it works. It is a planisphere. A map of the stars."

"I see. And what do you imagine I should do with it?"

Excerpted from Enlightenment by Sarah Perry. Copyright © 2024 by Sarah Perry. Excerpted by permission of Mariner Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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