Scorper by Rob Magnuson Smith

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Scorper: A Novel

Five words from the blurb: American, English, ancestral, tools, ghosts

Scorper is a strange, but beautiful book. I’ve not read anything like it before, but it could be described as a cross between All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills and Strangers by Taichi Yamada, with a bit of The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling mixed in. The story is set in Ditchling, a small village in rural Sussex, where an American has travelled in order to study his ancestors. The book combines realistic (and often humourous) observations of British village life with surreal scenes in which the American meets his long-dead relatives.

The writing quality was outstanding – I think this is the first time I’ve enjoyed a book written in the second-person narrative style. It felt so original and I loved the meta aspects of the text:

Yet another critic will opine, in a morally brave departure from this historically limited binary approach to literary criticism: ‘We must allow that Mr Cull has captured a thoroughly modern England in his depiction of our rural village life. With an outsider’s broad perspective, he is simply more aware of England than the English themselves. Resist the easy, outmoded accusations of “bad faith”. Put away the knives. This American exhibits a fresh boldness of vision: one we should celebrate, not vilify.’

The book was also very well researched. It introduced me to Eric Gill, a stone mason who invented several different typefaces, and explained the art of carving wood (using a scorper, the tool referred to in the title). I loved the way the book mixed fact with fantasy, creating something that felt almost Japanese in origin – a strange outcome for a text so rooted in the English countryside.

My only criticism is that I had no emotional connection to the characters – the reader simply has to enjoy observing this strange story. Luckily the writing was so strong I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy this bizarre tale.

Recommended to anyone looking for something a bit different.


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  1. We used to live near Ditchling and as soon as I saw that I wondered if Gill got a mention. Not sure how much it tells you about him – I find him fascinating – great talent and completely depraved!
    Knowing the area makes it appealing and you gave it 4 stars…may have to try it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Novel Heights, If you have a local connection then I think this is a must read. You might find some of it weird, but I am sure you’ll appreciate the historical sections. I hope you enjoy it!

  2. Bellezza says:

    You, my friend, are one of the few I know who’ve read Yamada’s Strangers. That comparison alone piqued my interest, as I do love strange and beautiful books. Thanks for sharing this one!

    1. Jackie says:

      Bellezza, It’s sad that not many people have read Strangers – it is one of the best (and most accessible) Japanese books out there. I’m glad I attracted your attention by mentioning it. I think you’d like this book.

  3. Dot says:

    I’m intrigued by your review, think I’m going to have to get a copy of this book!

    1. Jackie says:

      Dot, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  4. Ros says:

    I also grew up by Ditchling so will hunt this one out. My mum used to volunteer in the Ditchling museum too so I have heard lots about Eric Gill, although didn;t know so much when I lived there. Not for young ears, I think!

    1. Jackie says:

      Ros, Reviews like mine could become a way to reunite all the people raised in Ditchling!! I’m sure the personal connection to the area will make this book appeal even more. Enjoy!


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