The Lake Boy by Adam Roberts (book review).

‘The Lake Boy’ is a novella by Adam Roberts told in the form of a diary or journal. Once upon a time, people used these to record the events of their everyday life in this way, like a blog or Facebook profile except they kept it to themselves instead of boring the entire world with it.

This particular journal is written by Cynthia, a young lady who lives in the Lake District, Cumbria, England with her stern preacher brother, George, in the year of Our Lord 1795. Cynthia has previously spent time in an asylum, we discover, as she is subject to delusions and odd behaviour.

Now and again, she encounters a strange boy, poorly clad and thin with one side of his face heavily scarred as if by burning. He appears and disappears suddenly, like a ghost. While there, he discusses Christianity, including a theory about the life of Jesus that surprises Cynthia but also appeals to her. Cynthia thinks God is ‘the everlasting yea’ not ‘a black sea of no & no & no’.

Hardly surprising. Cynthia’s life is restricted. Her parents are both dead so she is more or less the property of her brother, a kindly man but baffled and angered by her vivid imagination and strange ways. He has a persistent cough that’s getting worse. Their lives are temporarily made more interesting by strange events in the night sky which draw astronomers from all over Europe to the district. Cynthia’s life is also enriched by an illicit lesbian affair with a Mrs. Eliza Jones, a dignified married lady.

I loved the prose. Adam Roberts writes beautifully and very much in the style of the eighteenth century, right down to the spelling. As Cynthia is both educated and a writer, she submits some verses to a London publisher and the style makes perfect sense. The culture of the time is also captured, from the depth of religious feeling to the very restrained and repressed nature of life for a woman. There are vivid descriptions of the bleak and beautiful Cumbrian landscape, too. The first half of the book might have been written by Emily Bronte.

The story moves along and kept me reading but I found the conclusion a little unsatisfying. Strange events happen, but we can’t be sure if they are supernatural, alien or simply Cynthia’s delusions though, to be honest, the latter seems unlikely. However, this is a very literary work and lovers of fine literature aren’t terribly concerned if matters are not clear. A bit of doubt, a bit of interpretation is all part of that game.

I don’t regret the hours spent in Cynthia’s head and if you like fine prose and immersion in another life, another time, another culture, then this little novella will give you some pleasure.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2019

(pub: NewCon Press, 2018. 67 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.49 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-910935-86-6)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories for small press magazines. His works are available on Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited.

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