The HyperTexts

Diversions in the Pen
by Tom Merrill
Sept. 20, 2017

My annual prison term―most call it winter―was made less unpleasant this last time around when British writer Douglas Board popped out of the blue one day with a couple interesting and different things for me to do.

Getting to read and help edit three successive drafts of his second novel was one of them. That kept me occupied for a considerable time with a project I had a special interest in. My special interest was due to the fact that some words of mine were used in the book. I naturally wanted the setting in which they would be appearing to have as finished and compelling a final form as possible. It was work, to be sure, editing, proofreading, scribbling notes, especially for someone grown accustomed to only using books to help hasten the effect of his nightly dose of melatonin and valium. Reading at night before taking my pills and without the objective of falling asleep faster was indeed a strange experience. But a decent stretch of ground had to be covered daily to ensure that I'd make it through all those pages in time to be of any use. Fortunately the story and writing were good enough to keep me moving at a pretty good clip. And any alterations that were made as a result of my suggestions were quite minor.

The other occupation Doug provided was Simon Edge's first novel The Hopkins Conundrum, a bound galley of which Doug sent me at some point during my interminable incarceration along with an invitation to write a review of it if it captured my interest. Simon's book did capture it, so much in fact that what I've really been getting around to here in this little reminiscence of my most recent prison days is plugging it.

The Hopkins Conundrum is a story about two romances that occurred a hundred years apart in the same location. Secondarily it is a spoof on foolbait novels, the kind that send credulous readers on wild goose chases. The novel is a mix of historical and modern romance with a refreshing added dose of irreverence toward authors who play to people's credulities for profit.

The novel reads beautifully and Simon has a real knack for evoking scenes. You feel you're right there alongside his characters in whichever scene he is conjuring, that you're observing and experiencing as fully as they are the events and surroundings and dire predicaments brought to life.

Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of the book's major characters and his lifelong infatuation with prematurely deceased poet-prodigy Digby Dolben comprises the deeper vein of the novel's contrasting stories.

Dolben, who died at age nineteen by drowning, had nonetheless become a fully mature poet before he died, revealing in several of his later poems a poetic perspective comparable to Housman's or Larkin's. He also brings to mind Shelley sometimes. With nothing more than snippets of his and GMH's poetry Simon manages to convey the depth of insight that marks the work of fully ripened poetic talent.

Simon also credits Hopkins with the discovery of a kind of poetic foot hitherto unnoticed in the domain of prosody.

My favorite sentence in the book is "Tim exhausted himself with the effort of feigning interest." Fortunately my own is not feigned, since Simon's book is the opposite of exhausting. It has received nothing but favorable notice so my own is just one tiny extra feather in a cap already fully fledged.

Simon Edge's first novel The Hopkins Conundrum can be further explored and/or purchased by clicking the hyperlinked title.

The HyperTexts