The Second Sleep

The Second Sleep
By Robert Harris

The British novelist Robert Harris has covered a lot of ground in his historical fiction – from ancient Rome to World War 2 – but in The Second Sleep he travels even further afield, into the distant future.

It is a future easily mistaken for the past. Civilization has taken a great leap backward after the collapse of 2025, leaving the world in a new dark age that looks very much like the last one. But when a young priest named Christopher Fairfax comes to the village of Addicott the past starts coming to light in some strange and disturbing ways.

The obvious comparison here is to Walter M. Miller Jr.’s classic 1959 novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, though the depiction of society slipping back into medieval lifeways, with science replaced by religion, has since become a commonplace for a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction.

Harris is an experienced storyteller and he builds the mystery of what’s buried underneath the Devil’s Chair nicely. There is also an implicit critique of the fragility of our own civilization in the proceedings. The ending is abrupt, but we might chalk that up to expectations of a sequel.

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