It is very difficult to describe the plot of The Second Sleep by Robert Harris without giving away spoilers and I wouldn’t want to do that because the gradual unfolding of this plot was a delight to read and kept me hooked all the way through the story. I hadn’t read any reviews of the book beforehand, relying on my experience with the author’s thrillers to guarantee a good read. It was a good read but not quite what I expected when I started the book. The author cleverly shows you that nothing is as it seems without a huge twist or the feeling that I sometimes get that they are trying to prove that they are cleverer than me (authors may not feel like that at all but it is occasionally how I think when I read books which contain a big surprise).
The main character of this book is Christopher Fairfax who is a priest. He is travelling to a small, rural village to bury the previous incumbent who appears to have accidently fallen off a cliff. When he arrives there Fairfax finds many of the village opposed to his presence and he feels that they want to get rid of him. He then finds evidence in the older priest’s study of heretical beliefs which may be held locally. As he investigates he discovers that nothing is the way that he thought it was and that some of these ideas hold a dangerous attraction for him.
The author is good at ratcheting up the tension and creating a real sense of peril. In the inexperienced priest he has created a man who will grow stronger through the book as his beliefs are challenged. There are other sub-plots and many characters who do and say things that are continually in conflict with what Fairfax believes to be immutable truth. The ending appears inevitable. The book does deal with the Christian religion and the church. I feel that it is not unnecessarily critical of the institution of the church nor of religion itself.
I really enjoyed this book. I liked discovering at the same speed as Fairfax discovers – the book is told only from his point of view so we never have “inside” information. The author has things to say about the world in which we live and how fragile our liberties are which are interesting and not overplayed. It is, however, primarily a cracking read, well-crafted and very satisfying. I highly recommend it – but avoid the spoilers if you can before you read.