Book Review – The Hopkins Conundrum by Simon Edge

First published, 2017

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

In The Hopkins Conundrum, we have three stories in one, very cleverly woven together and beautifully written by Simon Edge.

In one strand, we learn about well-meaning Tim, who, after the devastating breakup of his marriage, inherits a failing pub and rushes off to Wales, The Red Lion and its lone customer, as fast as he possibly can. However, Alun Gwynne (his barfly, singular) with his pint and a half a night, is not bringing in the sort of money to keep the pub alive. Tim needs a hook to bring in the tourists.

As it turns out, Gerard Manley Hopkins, writer of complicated and ethereal poetry, underrated and misunderstood in his time, wrote ‘The Wreck Of The Deutschland’ just down the road from Tim’s bar. If he can just convince an American writer of conspiracy theories that there are hidden messages in the verse (à la Da Vinci Code), he can make a fortune.

And we slip into Hopkins’s story, in the late 1800s. Gerard Manley Hopkins has come to the area to dedicate his life to God. He is a fish out of water on a few levels. He is a convert in a Catholic order, an Englishman in Wales, and a gay man in the 1800s. However, it is during his time in Wales that he finds an outlet for his poetic side, and writes the story of a terrible shipwreck which hit the area some years before.

And here, we meet the five German nuns who sailed aboard the ill fated ship. When The Deutschland runs aground in a storm, the water comes pouring in and the lifeboats are summoned. But when Sister Henrica sees two of the lifeboats, loaded with seafarers, snatched under a wave with all souls lost, she can’t bring herself to tell her fellow nuns, or the panicking tourists, what she has seen. But can they be saved when they insist on staying below deck and praying?

Some beautiful observations here. I especially liked this passage about what it’s like to be an outsider:
‘He has imagined them watching him ever since he arrived here, and at first he brushed the thought away, telling himself that this is his own townie prejudice against small places, and everyone has much better things to do than sit around spying on him. He has almost convinced himself of this when Alun Gwynne will say, “I hear you’ve been to the supermarket, landlord” or “Did you enjoy your walk up the hill?” – which is enough to make him barricade himself indoors.’
From North Wales, The Present, 33% in, The Hopkins Conundrum by Simon Edge

A very clever story, combining historical fiction and contemporary romantic comedy, I really enjoyed this story. Thoroughly original, funny and heartfelt, I look forward to reading more from this author.