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The Hopkins Manuscript

by RC Sherriff
Persephone book no:

56 57 58

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 1903155487

This early piece of climate fiction, by the author of the play Journey's End and also of Persephone favourites The Fortnight in September and Greengates and first published in 1939, imagines what would happen if the moon crashed into the earth. 

Presented as a lost manuscript written by a retired Hampshire school teacher named Edwin Hopkins, we watch through his eyes as the moon veers off course, draws slowly closer to the earth, and finally crashes into it on May 3rd, 1946. Because it falls into the Atlantic Ocean, much of humanity survives - only to generate new disasters. But this is not science fiction in the mode of H G Wells's The War of the Worlds; it is a novel about human nature. 

The narrator Hopkins's greatest interest in life is his Bantam hens; rather self-important and lacking much sense of humour, he nevertheless emerges as an increasingly sympathetic and credible character, the ordinary man with whom we very much identify as Sherriff describes the small Hampshire village trying to prepare itself in its last days. We defy any of our readers not to be overwhelmed by the scene when the villagers staunchly play a final game of cricket by the light of the moon that 'hung like a great amber, pock-marked lamp above a billiard-table, so vast and enveloping that the little white-clad cricketers moved without shadows to their appointed places on the field.'

Sherriff's writing about this catastrophe is so convincing that in our edition of The Hopkins Manuscript we have also included a scientific explanation of the events in the book that was originally written by the Big Bang scientist George Gamow for a 1963 reprint. 

Fay Weldon chose The Hopkins Manuscript for her Summer Reading in the Observer, calling it 'spectacular, skilled and moving and supremely and alarmingly relevant to our life today', while the Sunday Telegraph called it 'intensely readable and touching.'


The endpapers are taken from 'Wangle', a 1932 dyed cotton three colour print by Enid Marx.

Read What Readers Say

Andrew Hunter Murray, 'The Times’

When the Royal Society of Abyssinia discovered The Hopkins Manuscript two years ago in the ruins of Notting Hill it was hoped that some valuable light would at last be thrown on the final, tragic days of London.’ Now that’s an opening line. Western Europe’s civilisations are dead, their lands deserted and drear; this volume is all that remains. And how did the world end? The moon fell on it. The premise sounds laughable. The science is laughable. (The beautiful Persephone edition includes an afterword by the eminent physicist George Gamow, who gently demolishes the book’s entire theoretical foundation.) And yet RC Sherriff’s novel, like all great speculative fiction, rests not on its plausibility, but on the glimpses it shows us of our own face. The novel’s framing device is fabulous. A magnificently disparaging preface, written eight centuries hence by a snooty Abyssinian scholar, informs the reader that, due to the narrator’s breath-taking self-regard, the book – practically the last remaining British document, barring a KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign and a stone reading PECKHAM 3 MILES – is “almost valueless to the scientist and historian”. This aspect is precisely what sets ‘The Hopkins Manuscript’ apart from most apocalyptic fiction: it’s (frequently) a comedy... Sherriff had seen Europe smashed once before – he spent four years in the trenches – and his dread of it happening again shines through. What a weird and brilliant talent he had. Hopkins wasn’t Sherriff’s first sci-fi outing: he had already written the screenplay for HG Wells’s The Invisible Man. Today he’s remembered principally for his play about the First World War, ‘Journey’s End’, but he seems to have written whatever he pleased. (His first novel, ‘The Fortnight in September’, concerns a family going to Bognor for a fortnight. That’s it. It’s riveting.) ‘The Hopkins Manuscript’, however, was his finest hour.

Alec Nevala-Lee, ‘New York Times’

This wonderful novel should powerfully resonate with readers whose consciences are troubled by inequality and climate change… Like Kazuo Ishiguro, a noted admirer, Sherriff is a master at framing a story through the narrator’s circumscribed point of view, and the novel would still be enormously readable — and funny — if it were nothing but an exercise in voice. Halfway through, however, it pulls off a subtle tonal shift. As the moon grows closer, Sherriff paints an uncomfortably familiar picture of a society in denial… Sherriff’s warning that authoritarian leaders will use any crisis to advance their goals is disturbingly relevant today.

Categories: Men (books about) Men (books by) Science Fiction Social Comedy Teenagers (books for)

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