THE SUNKEN LAND BEGINS TO RISE AGAIN
Winner, Goldsmiths Fiction Prize, 2020
“Unsettling and insinuating, fabulously alert to the spaces between things, Harrison is without peer as a chronicler of the fraught, unsteady state we’re in.” –Olivia Laing
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 fourteen.
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’s 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, The Water Babies?
As Shaw and Victoria struggle to maintain their relationship, and their denial of the mysterious new forces at work in the shadows around them, the sunken lands are rising up again.
“Other experimental novels unstitch language, character and form, but Harrison unstitches the reader herself.” —Frances Wilson, New Statesman
“beneath this veneer of normality lurks one of the strangest and most unsettling novels of the year … If fiction’s greatest achievement is in affecting the way the reader sees the world, then Harrison’s spare and beautiful prose has conjured up here a feeling of almost permanent dislocation from the routines of everyday life. Even when the book has been closed, it’s a feeling that is incredibly hard to shake off.” –Richard Strachan, The Herald
“its resonances with our world are somehow simultaneously obvious and obscure but they hit with an emotional immediacy that few writers can match … A particularly humdrum uncanny is evoked ” –the Quietus
“Harrison is a law unto himself, and The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again is a novel so good all the usual reviewerish superlatives barely seem superlative enough.” –Adam Roberts
“The gaps between the characters are of more interest to Harrison than their skulking intimacies, and things seen from the corner of the eye matter more than those observed directly. The result is a disconcerting portrait of a Britain plagued by suspicion and conspiracy theories.” –Henry Hitchings, Spectator
“In The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, we witness the triumphant flowering of Harrison’s late style, in which the point is not the story but the accretion of circumstance. If Harrison’s 12th novel is “about” anything, it is about the crisis — not just Shaw’s but our own, our nation’s, the planet’s, a state of brokenness and wrong-thinking that seems to preclude the idea of acting, or even of wanting.” –Nina Allan, LA Review of Books
“a sinister version of modern Britain, broke, divided and paranoid … M John Harrison, who has spent a career puncturing the expectations and pretensions of the science fiction genre, outdoes himself here” –Simon Ings, The Times
“uncanny and exquisite” —Morning Star
“Like reading Thomas Pynchon underwater … a book of alienation, atmosphere, half-glimpsed revelation …” —Daily Mail
“Harrison is … the poet laureate of unhappy people having sex in ugly clothes.” –Savage Beast Podcast
“Did not finish … Grim and unremittingly depressing setting, unlikable characters” —SFF World
Available in hardback, trade paperback & ebook, at your trusted outlets. Public appearances are cancelled or postponed for the obvious reason; charmingly chaotic e-events–online interviews, twitter chats & Zoom apearances–may or may not take their place–look out for details on Twitter @mjohnharrison. A magnificent early review from Olivia Laing in the Guardian, here; and a complex personal response to some of the site-specific elements by Andrew Key. Interviews with: Leo Robson at the New Statesman; Brendan Byrne for Big Echo; and with Mariana Enriquez at FILBA 2020. For more information, or to suggest events, reviews, interviews, get in touch with Will O’Mullane at Gollancz and/or Zoe Turner at Comma Press.
“Simply one of the best writers of fiction currently at work in English.” –Robert Macfarlane
Author photo by Cath Phillips, 2012
Mike, I really enjoyed the book. I’m currently trying to write a novel and my working title – a quotation from a poem by Wallace Stevens – could, I realised, be a perfect additional epigraph for Sunken Land. I quote the stanza in full but the line in question is the fifth…
After all the pretty contrast of life and death
Proves that these opposite things partake of one,
At least that was the theory, when bishops’ books
Resolved the world. We cannot go back to that.
The squirming facts exceed the squamous mind,
If one may say so . And yet relation appears,
A small relation expanding like the shade
Of a cloud on sand, a shape on the side of a hill.
A lovely novel Mike. Makes it hard to watch isolated noir without trying to see through a limb or ear. For various odd reasons we’ve sold a house and found ourselves huddled in a few rooms beneath the in-laws’ verandah, facing the south pole and listening to the ocean for what seems forever, as our new house is built five hours away. Normally when writing a first draft I avoid fiction but I caught a cold and gravitated toward your book. Just the right thing to read wheezing. Really, I am such a fan of it. Thank you! If you’re ever in Gippsland drop us a line.
This might be my favourite of your novels and that’s really saying something. Bleak, compassionate and grimly funny too. Wonderful writing.
Thank you for the book, John. It reminds me what`s important and necessary in my life.
Glad you enjoyed it, Tom –All best, Mike.
This is a wonderful book. It gives me the Piers Plowman feeling of the everyday world as a ferly (the Middle English word, not an autocorrect), which explains why non-naturalistic features work in so, ah, naturally. Wow. I can’t believe I am only reading it now. Thank you, belatedly, for writing it. It does make me want to ask: have you read Langland? My instinct is that that freewheeling, improvisatory English vision is surely in the mix somewhere. If this wild guess is correct, have you discussed it anywhere that I can get hold of? Or, importuning further, would you be interested in doing so at a Piers Plowman conference at Royal Holloway next July, assuming that we all survive the ongoing apocalypse until then?
Thank you so much for this Sarah. I certainly see the world as a ferly & have spent 50 years trying for the best way to centralise that in everything I write. So I’m glad you got that feeling from the book. I haven’t read Piers Plowman since A level English, though, so there wasn’t a conscious connection here. (Although of course God knows what your unconscious is ever up to behind your back…) Have a good conference at RH next July & should you run into Prof Roberts there, say Hi from me.