THE HOPKINS CO­NUN­DRUM

A Tragic Com­edy about Ger­ard Man­ley Hopkins and Five Ship­wrecked Nuns

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - LETI­TIA MONT­GOMERY-RODGERS

Si­mon Edge, Eye Books (OC­TO­BER), Soft­cover $13.95 (272pp), 978-1-78563-033-0 Edge makes good use of lit­tle-known lit­er­ary and historical ter­ri­tory to mine con­ver­gences, ty­ing them to­gether with the free­dom of fic­tion. A tragi­com­edy that slips through time and space cir­cling var­i­ous char­ac­ters. The Hopkins Co­nun­drum is sprin­kled with unique history, sharp ob­ser­va­tion, and the ab­sur­dity of the or­di­nary. A stun­ning new voice, Si­mon Edge crafts a send-up that both masters and sub­verts genre con­ven­tions to re­veal a unique point of view and a warm, beat­ing heart.

A com­pos­ite nar­ra­tive, The Hopkins Co­nun­drum links the sto­ries of present-day pub­li­can Tim Clev­erly, busi­ness­woman and Hopkins fan Chloe Ben­son, thriller writer Barry Brook, Je­suit priest and poet Ger­ard Man­ley Hopkins, and five Ger­man nuns trav­el­ing aboard the Deutsch­land in 1875.

Edge makes good use of lit­tle-known lit­er­ary and historical ter­ri­tory to mine con­ver­gences, ty­ing them to­gether with the free­dom of fic­tion. Be­cause the wreck of the Deutsch­land doesn’t hold the same cul­tural mem­ory as, say, that of the Ti­tanic, Edge’s ex­plo­ration of this history through a group of five nuns aboard ship has real stakes, as does Hopkins’s strug­gle to find him­self in the sub­sump­tion of poetry and piety. What emerges is a wor­thy historical thriller in its own right.

Yet amidst Edge’s pierc­ingly keen in­sights and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion is al­ways hu­mor. While the historical nar­ra­tive probes the dark hu­mor of real lives, the modern nar­ra­tive ex­plores with a gen­tle hu­mor the deep flaws of ev­ery­day life. Tim’s sad­sack mus­ings, and a sin­gu­lar cus­tomer (com­plete with flat­u­lent dog) and the odd part­ner­ship they forge as Tim at­tempts to keep his fail­ing pub— and love life—afloat are un­de­ni­ably hi­lar­i­ous.

The im­prob­a­ble tan­gle of Tim, Chloe, and Barry Brook snow­balls as Tim’s get-rich-quick scheme threat­ens to cost him ev­ery­thing worth keep­ing. This modern-day farce al­most bal­ances the poignancy of Hopkins and the nuns, but, as Edge him­self says, “Em­pha­sis on the ‘al­most’— let’s not get car­ried away.”

Filled with rich, dis­tinct char­ac­ters, each story line in The Hopkins Co­nun­drum blos­soms in Edge’s sure hand. The union of these sto­ries is mag­i­cal, a con­ti­gu­ity that lifts the book into some­thing rare and spe­cial.

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