South Africa in the 1880s. A young and naive English doctor by the name of William Abbey witnesses the lynching of a local boy by the white colonists. As the child dies, his mother curses William.
William begins to understand what the curse means when the shadow of the dead boy starts following him across the world. It never stops, never rests. It can cross oceans and mountains. And if it catches him, the person he loves most in the world will die.
A new book by Claire North is always a welcome event. You never know quite what you’re going to get, but can rest assured that it’ll be different and thought-provoking.
The Pursuit of William Abbey is exactly that. Starting with a horrific, brutal event, we’re drawn into the life of Dr William Abbey and his quest to stay one step ahead of his pursuer, the shadow of a young boy murdered by white colonists in Natal. Abbey was present at the lynching, and cursed by the boy’s mother. Langa never stops, undeterred by mountain range or ocean, by desert or forest. He is utterly relentless.
As Langa grows closer, Abbey discovers that he can see the truth in people’s hearts. Close enough, and Abbey finds himself unable to stop himself from blurting those truths out to any and everyone who’ll listen.
If Langa catches up with Abbey, someone he loves will die, and the chase will begin again.
North does not spare us of the brutality of war or colonialism. Some sections of the book are hard to stomach, deliberately so. Man’s inhumanity to man is writ large across the pages of this book as Abbey travels from continent to continent.
Abbey finds himself at the attention of The Nineteen, a shadowy organisation who promise him salvation from his curse. He just needs to do a few little jobs for them first – go here and find out those truths, go there and find out some more. Always travelling, always moving, always pursued.
North’s writing is, as always, wonderful and easy to lose yourself in. In part I wanted to finish the book to find out what happens, but on another level I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere, the astonishing cast of characters that she conjures forth throughout the book.
If I had any criticism, it would be that the pace, relentless as it is for our titular William Abbey, flags ever so slightly around the halfway mark. But it recovers as we approach the final act, leading to an ending which…
Well, I’ll have to leave that to you, dear reader. Will Abbey find absolution for his sins? Will he escape his pursuer?
I’m not sure my words are doing this book justice – for a more thorough review I’d like to direct you to David at BlueBookBalloon who is far better than I am at putting such things in the perspective they deserve.
In short, The Pursuit of William Abbey is a work of an astonishing imagination. A Claire North book is always worth investigating, and if you do get this one, I’d love to hear what you think.
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Thanks to Nazia Khatun at Orbit for the advance copy of the book to review, and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me onto the blog tour.