In this powerful debut novel, Ed Hillyer has created an epic brimming with memorable characters and historical intrigue, and etched with documentary detail that brings both Regency and Victorian London vividly to life.
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May 1868: an Aboriginal Australian cricket team begins a tour of England. One of the players is on a quest to explore his Truth, or Dreaming.
Sarah Larkin’s quiet routine, divided between her father’s sick room and the British Library, takes on a completely new aspect when King Cole, aka Brippoki, arrives unannounced on her doorstep, requesting her help. A curious friendship develops as together they research the fate and fortune of Joseph Druce, a convicted felon, transported to New South Wales nearly eighty years earlier: sneak thief, drunkard, cattle rustler, Royal Navy deserter – and quite possibly a murderer.
At the heart of this long and absorbing novel is the Great Serpent which is how the Native Australian Brippoki sees the River Thames. Bought to Victorian London as part of a cricket team, he has another motive for being here, to research the life of a man transported to Australia nearly 80 years earlier. There is marvellous counterpointing of Aboriginal life against the seething, crowded and dirty world of London in the 1860’s. The length of the novel gives Ed Hillyer the space to fill out historical detail creating a very strong sense of time and place.View source
All About Cricket
This vibrant, intelligent book draws its inspiration from possibly cricket's most remarkable team: the almost forgotten Australian Aborigine side that toured England in 1868. From this unlikely source Hillyer, a first time novelist but possessing considerable assurance as a storyteller, has drafted an intricate tale about two unusual men who effectively exchanged destinies. Hillyer's meticulous research and gift for atmosphere brings London and its rich history to life, from the prim and proper arena that was Lord's in the Victorian era to the ragged filth of the city's backstreets and its inhabitants, his handling of Brippoki's hallucinogenic episodes are skilfully done and his use of Dreaming, a concept often used in modern literature but rarely with a great deal of success, is sensitive and understated. But perhaps his greatest achievement is his ability to inject structure and humour into this tale (fantastic incidental characters steal the spotlight on a regular basis) and the result is a charming, unusual and poignant book.
Every single page is full to bursting. Yet every single word earns its place… The whole novel is breathtaking in its scope and originality. This is a multi-layered literary read. Thoroughly recommended.View source
A love of cricket is no requirement, for this is a human tale and a story of London and its great river, but perhaps you too might find an unexpected connection that draws you into this delightful tale.View source
This reads like an author on their fourth or fifth book rather than their debut novel. The prose is masterly, the characters are fully drawn. It’s also the Afterword and additional information after the story closes that has a huge impact on the book as you find out the true story it’s based on. It certainly adds an emotional punch and also a sense of further wonderment at Hillyer’s work. He is clearly an author to keep our eyes on. It’s not a book to be read quickly, nor an easy read by any means (ideally it’s one to be read slowly with no great rush and allowed to unfold in front of the readers eyes – perfect for on your holidays) but it is one that I don’t think people should miss out on. 9/10 (I wouldn’t mind this getting a nod on the Man Booker Longlist this year.)View source
Katie Roberts, Waterstones
An effortless blend of history, religion, philosophy, travel, adventure and the great British sport of cricket, this beautifully written novel is the best first novel I've read in a very long time. I loved it.