The Sacred Combe, by Thomas Maloney review – a Gothic pastiche
Impressive lyricism in places, and a delicate evocation of the English countryside
The Sacred Combe
After the breakdown of his marriage Samuel Browne answers a mysterious job advertisement that sees him searching for a lost letter in a library of 18,000 books. Thomas Maloney’s novel The Sacred Combe borrows from Wilkie Collins, Daphne Du Maurier and Susan Hill, but its heightened register, characters speaking in faux-Victorian formality, and scenes of drinking punch by the parlour fire amount to a Gothic pastiche rendered uncomfortable and self-aggrandising by its 21st-century setting. The protagonist’s leering after a 17-year-old girl, and his indignation at the audacity of his wife for leaving him “without legal grounds”, add up to a character who is unsympathetic and immature.
A number of vignettes and subplots are never fully developed, and although the mysteries of the book are unravelled in inventive ways, there is little genuine intrigue. That said, Maloney attains an impressive lyricism in places, and builds a delicate evocation of the English countryside that shows the sensitivity of his writing when he is writing as himself rather than in his 19th-century guise.