Review Blog

Dec 31 2019

The pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North

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Orbit, 2019. ISBN: 9780356507422.
(Age: Adult) Recommended. William Abbey is a truth-speaker. It is a curse on him, a curse by the mother of a black boy cruelly murdered by a lynch mob in Natal, a curse for standing by and failing to speak out and prevent the torture. Abbey is a doctor but he can do nothing for the charred dying boy. And now his shame will haunt him forever, as the boy's misshapen ghost relentlessly pursues him around the world wherever he goes. Each time as the ghost of Langa draws closer, Abbey finds he can see into the inner heart of whoever is near him and he is compelled to reveal the truth of what he sees there, he babbles their secrets, and ultimately whoever he loves will die.
We learn his story as he gradually reveals it to a nurse at the bedside of soldier who has had his guts ripped out on the battle fields of 1917 France. The nurse senses that there is some dangerous connection between the two men, and is determined to protect her patient. But will she be able to face the horror of the tale he will tell? And what is her truth? Is she brave, or will she fail?
Abbey is not the only person cursed to be a truth-speaker. In his desperate travels to escape his pursuer he meets others doomed to speak and doomed to lose their loved ones. Can he save the people he cares about, can he avoid loving anyone, and can he find a cure for his condition somewhere in the far reaches of the world? There are those who want to exploit his truth-revealing skills, he is wanted as a spy; and there are those who want to discover the workings of his brain, probe and analyse it as the ghost approaches.
Within this framework of mystery, horror story, is a highly researched examination of the history and politics of the late 19th, early 20th century world, from the colonial ravages of Africa and India, to Peru, to the machinations of Europe, to the black white conflicts of America, to the songline guardians of Australia, North puts the spotlight on human conflict and failure across the globe. It is a harsh unflinching look at imperialism and its destructive interactions, and reveals the moral turpitude of the human race.
Whilst the original premise may ignite interest, fans of mystery or romance stories may find this book hard going, as the spotlight is steadily focussed on the complexities of human nature and politics, and the failings of individuals, and indeed the human race. It is a serious examination of a particular time in history with ramifications for present times as well.
Helen Eddy

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