John Cole decides to shut up his bookshop that hasn’t seen a customer in weeks to surprise his brother with a visit. When his car breaks down on the way, he stumbles across a large, run-down house and hopes he can find help there. A woman answers the door. She is childlike and excited to see him, telling him that they have been expecting him and pulling him inside. John is swept up in the excitement and the welcoming arms of the residents of the house, as they show him the room they have prepared for him and tell him how they have been waiting for him. But how do they know who he is and why have they been expecting him?
This is where the blurb for After Me Comes The Flood stops. This is what made me read this book in the first place to be honest, the mystery. How did they know he was coming? Why were they expecting him? The blurb leads you to believe that’s what the book is about, that mystery. But unfortunately it’s a lot more mundane than that. You find out very early on that there is no mystery at all, it’s just a misunderstanding, which is disappointing because it’s not what you’re expecting.
I can understand why the story is sold like that. After the initial confusion is realised, nothing much happens in this book by way of a story, so there’s not much more the blurb can tell you. The book is based around a group of people living in the grand house that John comes across.
Hester, the controlling matriarch, Claire, the childlike woman who meets John at the door, and her brother Alex, the unpredictable Eve, Elijah, a former preacher who has lost his faith, and Walker, who seems suspicious of John from the start. It comes about that Alex is being sent threatening letters because he believes the dam near the house will burst with the oncoming storm. But that’s about the only hint of a plot that you’re presented with.
It’s a very character-driven book, and they are interesting people, except that they’re not as well-developed as perhaps they should be for a book that relies on its characters so heavily.
Elijah is the most likeable character, and the one you find out the most about. Walker is given a brief back story as well, with Eve, but their connection comes about very suddenly so it’s difficult to get too invested in it. Claire is barely described at all, except for the fact that John can’t figure out her age and constantly describes her as if she is a child. Alex and Hester seem to be the main focus, but you don’t find out much about them either. Another brief back story and that’s all.
The character development, for the few characters that do develop, isn’t particularly well done either. John becomes infatuated with Eve, but it comes about just as suddenly as Eve and Walker’s story. This obsession with her becomes all-encompassing to John, but it comes without much of an explanation, so it’s difficult to care about it. Hester’s outcome is just as out of the blue as everything else. Perhaps Perry meant it to show the oddness of the characters, but it’s all just a bit too incoherent to work.
Perry’s writing style is the one thing that salvages it. This book is beautifully written. The narrative is dream-like, as if you’re seeing everything through a haze that mirrors the heat of the drought the characters are suffering through, and gives a sense of claustrophobia. The pace is quite slow but this works in the book’s favour. It creates a sense of something ominous about to happen which makes you want to keep reading, and this unease stays with you after you have finished reading.
After Me Comes The Flood may not live up to the expectations set out by the way it’s advertised, but is worth a read if only to experience Perry’s haunting prose.