H.G. Parry’s brilliant and amazing novel, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, is the kind of book I wish I could write. I know that I am a confirmed reader; I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo* enough times to know that I don’t have the spark. Parry’s novel weaves in and out of a contemporary Wellington, New Zealand and the novels of Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, and more to create a tale about the nature of identity and story. I loved every chapter.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep begins with Rob Sutherland rescuing his brother, Charley, yet again from something Charley pulled out of a book. No one is sure how he does it, but Charley has been able to read things out of fiction since he was four years old. (He pulled the Cat out of The Cat and the Hat for Rob.) Rob and the rest of the Sutherlands have been trying to help Charley suppress this ability because a) Charley would probably end up in a lab somewhere and b) family takes care of family, no matter how big a pain it is. As the novel opens, Rob has to scramble to help Charley put the awful Uriah Heep back into David Copperfield. Charley accidentally summoned this epitome of jealousy and failure out of Dicken’s novel and Uriah very much does not want to go back.
Of course, things don’t go back to normal once Rob and Charley close the book on Uriah. For one thing, another version of Uriah turns up at Rob’s law office the very next day. Things only get weirder from there when the Sutherland brothers learn (from Sherlock Holmes) that there is a street that doesn’t really exist, where characters and creatures have found a refuge from the real world after they somehow found themselves outside of fiction. Charley is enchanted by the Street. Rob is frightened, because the existence of the Street means that it’s probably going to be impossible to keep Charley’s secret much longer. When the Sutherland brothers—and their ally, girl detective Millie Radcliffe-Dix—discover that there is another summoner (who is a big fan of fictional Victorian villains) at work, the plot of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep really starts to take off.
I think my favorite parts of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep were the bits where Charley had to harness his magical powers through the use of literary theory. I would not have thought that I would be nodding along with a protagonist as he explicates the Jabberwock or Dicken’s social justice. But there I was. It was like I could actually understand the magic words for once instead of just breezing past a bit of Latin. Honestly, if all my English classes had been like watching Charley try to tame the Hound of the Baskervilles, I’d probably be trying for my PhD right now.
If you’re the kind of reader who ever wondered what might happen if Dorian Gray had access to the internet or if multiple interpretations of Mr. Darcy had to cohabitate or just if all your favorite characters could all come out of their pages and mingle, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is the perfect book for you. This book is also a great choice for readers who are deeply in love with story and how stories have the power to shape, not just reality, but also readers.
*Good luck to all the writer taking the plunge this November!