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Summary

Shaw had a breakdown, but he's getting himself back together. He has a single room, a job on a decaying London barge and an on-off affair with a doctor's daughter called Victoria, who claims to have seen her first corpse at age 13.

It's not ideal, but it's a life. Or it would be if Shaw hadn't got himself involved in a conspiracy theory that, on dark nights by the river, seems less and less theoretical....

Meanwhile, Victoria is up in the Midlands, renovating her dead mother's house, trying to make new friends. But what, exactly, happened to her mother? Why has the local waitress disappeared into a shallow pool in a field behind the house? And why is the town so obsessed with that old Victorian morality tale The Water Babies?   

As Shaw and Victoria struggle to maintain their relationship, the sunken lands are rising up again, unnoticed in the shadows around them.

©2020 M. John Harrison (P)2020 Orion Publishing Group

What listeners say about The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A strange and curious vision


I am a fan of 'Climbers' by Harrison. Acute obsevations and the vivid characters and great landscape writing. It was starkly honest and it had me re-reading it quite soon after I finished. This novel is also beautiful, and thoughtful. It is grounded in the contemporary world with forays into the unknown. Is the unexplained weirdness real to the characters? An insanity, A crisis, perhaps. A sort of dual hallucination that entwines them, I have no answer, but I liked thinking about it..

As a rule I prefer books to ask questions rather than simply answer them. And so to try and answer another reviewer's (Jerold C's) question (Why is nothing resolved?) I would say because confusion is the human condition and to engage with another's confusion is to empathise. Curiosity is more active than observation.

Just my feeling.

5 people found this helpful

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Unsettling, unearthly, undeniably brilliant

Set in contemporary Brexit Britain but moored in the drab ambience of the early 80s, this follows two people - Shaw and Victoria - whose fish-out-of-water existences are... just that.
I find it hard to believe I haven’t heard of M John Harrison before, unless it’s because I’ve been readier to dismiss potential ‘genre’ writers than I thought.
MJH is a master of language and of prose style. I’m in awe of the understated yet mesmeric quality of his writing, and am going to find another of his to read / listen to straightaway. On which note, all credit to Max Dowler, whose narration was pitch perfect.

2 people found this helpful

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Drivel from start to finish

I bought this book based on a review which was glowing and effusive with regard to the work. The story is dreary, over-detailed descriptively and lacking cohesion, truly the worst book I have either read or listened to. I know this sounds harsh, but I wouldn't wish anyone else to be in any doubt. 10 hours I will not regain.
I apologise if the author ever reads this comment, perhaps your editor should have been more competent.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

well written bollocks

The prose is great. The characters well defined. The hints of the strange engage and provide bait for narrative greed. But ultimately it's a story about nothing, using the tropes of horror and fantastic fiction. Lovely passages lead nowhere and the aimless characters' responses to the 'weird'start to really get on your nerves once you realise that nothing will be resolved. And that's early on in the text. I think this intentional. But why?

2 people found this helpful

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Story goes nowhere

I really did not like this book and will return it after 7 hours of listening because I can’t bear another second of this boring, nonsensical book. I bought it because of the rave reviews and the Goldsmiths prize but am highly disappointed in it. The story goes nowhere. It is utterly amazing how little this book makes sense. Apologies to the writer and yeah the prose is good, but I just feel like I’ve listened to some random thoughts attached together to make a semblance of a book. I understand why some may like it; it is definitely not my cup of tea.

1 person found this helpful

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Peculiar, disturbing story, but well written

The prose of the book is excellent and stimulating, leading you ever more into the story and seeking answers. It is nothing like anything else I have read. Ultimately, I found it wanting at the end, although I see that is perhaps, the purpose of the author.

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Just the things which no one can see...

Hallucinatory highbrow from enigmatic maestro, M. John Harrison. Defies easy interpretation. Won an award. But if inscrutable observations upon immanence, atavism and the essential unknowableness of others isn't your bag then, frankly, this book probably isn't for you. Now, I'm an admirer of Harrison - I think he's one of the finest writers working today - but I would hesitate to recommend this to somebody unfamiliar with his work; it really is one for initiates (fortunately for him, these days "a lot are"). It also helps to be familiar with Charles Kingsley's classic children's novel 'The Water Babies', which is referenced throughout. Ironically, the opening few chapters suggest that Harrison has pared down his style to express his core themes in a sparse, accessible fashion. Of course, it soon becomes apparent that he's done no such thing, and has simply abstracted his narrative until it resembles those patterns of damp found in the dismal bedsits he's so fond of evoking. Here, it's all thematic: his characters wallow in ennui, speaking in non sequiturs, never connecting with others or being understood; words are dislocated from intention and meaning; absurd Pinter-esque menace hangs in the air. As always with him, exquisitely described locations promise mysteries never revealed and lost souls experience brief moments of clarity through a fog of self-deception. Everywhere, the mundane is transformed by an authorial opacity until it becomes eerie and otherworldly. So saying, it's difficult to gauge how much the sunken land of the title is intended as a metaphor for self-realisation, transcendence, devolution or simply a withering analogy for some post-Brexit Avalon. Possibly Harrison is just taking the piss. He's actually a very funny writer, but one with an extremely bleak sense of humour. If I was being facetious I would describe this book as being what The Shadow Over Innsmouth might have resembled had it been written by Samuel Beckett.
Max Dowler captures all of this very well in his narration, his midlands accents bringing out some of that humour I mention. The book is split between two central characters - one male, one female - and he does equally well with both.
"Everything that happened seemed like a good beginning but it turned out to be the thing itself." Just so.

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The sunken land begins to rise again

Really well written. Beautifully constructed. Very very heavy going and not enjoyable. Possibly not a popular opinion.

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Quirky, rather obtuse tale

I loved the lexically rich narrative of this story but found the main characters and their situations rather depressing. The menacing undercurrents maintained a certain suspense but the underlying story I found incomprehensible and therefore rather unsatisfactory.