sjhstrangetales

BOOK REVIEW: THE HOPKINS MANUSCRIPT by R C SHERRIFF

Posted on: June 6, 2018

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This sci-fi tale, originally published on the eve of WW2, deserves to be much better known.  In fact, in my opinion it should be up there with the Greats.   It concerns an unassuming middle-aged ex-schoolmaster called Edgar Hopkins, who lives quietly in the Hampshire countryside, keeping poultry.  On a visit to his astronomical society in London he is informed of some very grave news.  The Moon has veered off course, and is heading on a collision path with Earth.

Yes, it has dated in some parts, particularly with the characterisation, but as it’s nearly 80 years old, that’s only to be expected.  His younger characters can be a bit bland and jolly hockey-sticks, but Edgar’s concerns for them would have been very relevant at the time it was written in 1939.  The portrayal of Edgar’s elderly aunt and uncle, who live entirely for pleasure, and don’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation they’re in, was well-drawn.  Edgar himself is lovable, even if he can veer towards fussy pomposity sometimes.  It makes such a refreshing change to read an apocalyptic novel with such a down-to-earth character at the centre of it.  Frankly, these days if I read another modern day one featuring some boring American Rambo-esque know-it-all super-hero, armed to the teeth with guns, and wittering on about Saving His People, I shall scream.

I did find myself losing interest a bit in the second half of the novel, when it looked as though Civilisation was getting rebuilt, and everything was going to be hunky-dory again … but then I remembered the dark beginning, and knew all was not what it seemed.  Clearly something was going to go drastically wrong.   And it does.  I won’t give away any more spoilers, suffice it to say that it will stay with me for a long time.   There are moments of pure poetry in this story, particularly the scene in Trafalgar Square, when people look upwards and first notice something very odd about the Moon.  Likewise with the Eve Of Apocalypse moonlit village cricket match.   There is a moralistic vein to the story, but it’s certainly one we can all relate to these days, in that human greed and in-fighting amongst nations can wreck any chances of civilisation getting off its backside and focusing instead on what really needs to be done.

A sad, surreal and deeply profound story, with a very unsettling prophetic feel to it.

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