It would seem that Thomas Maloney is an admirer of the novelist John Fowles and this work does have something of a lesser Fowles feel. I was a big John Fowles fan at one time though I haven’t read any of his works for decades and have no idea whether they would hold up. My tastes have changed, my life experiences have evolved. (Or devolved according to one’s POV, but this review is only tangentially about myself–as all reviews by anyone are tangentially about themselves. I’m moving on from that.) Initially I was going to give it 3 stars then thought 4 stars and bounced back and forth quite a bit.

From the start when reading The Sacred Combe (a phrase from John Fowles!) I felt it was a book from another era. Not Victorian, more recent than that, but not contemporary (though it was published in 2016). Modernist or postmodernist maybe. It’s slyly self-conscious in that pomo way. 

This is a character and setting driven novel rather than plot-driven. I’m certainly okay with that, though the characters at times seem more like set pieces than fully fleshed works of the imagination. It’s a tricksy novel, full of literary allusions, some more obvious than others. It has secrets that once revealed are more “Oh, okay,” rather than stunningly revelatory. Things seem about to happen then they don’t. The story is told in a wandering way with lush nature writing that at times walks the line of being over written.

Am I glad I read it? Well, I finished it. I no longer finish books that aren’t giving me *something.* So that tells you…something. Am I satisfied with having finished? I don’t know. It’s not only a tricksy novel but pondery with a placid surface. Perhaps I should have done more pondering before writing this review, but I’m done pondering. I woke up with the need to write down my thoughts and move on. And I suppose that, too, tells you…something.