The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Review published on June 23, 2017.

Somewhere in Cornwall during 1859, Merrick feels like he’s getting older and acknowledges he is somewhat overweight, with an ankle injury that impedes his mobility and ability to travel. His trusted St Bernard fares little better, being sluggish and overweight too!

Living with his brother, Charles Ledger, amongst the family portraits of the Tremaynes and the Lemons their home is in quite a state of disarray. This is made worse when a tree comes crashing down through the roof, of which remains “The white bark full of knots and aborted grown branches.” Odd things start to happen, heavy statues seem to move and Merrick begins to wonder what is happening to him. This is a book packed with crisp, illustrious, descriptions that leave a vivid image as you read. What transpires is that Merrick reluctantly gets to go on an expedition to Peru. He is approached for his previous experience in the East India Company, his botanical skills and his lack of dependants, such is the risk of non-return. The aim is to collect quinine-bearing trees from the Amazon, to help treat a malaria outbreak in India, but under the guise of seeking coffee. When he gets there, a Scottish missionary expounds their approaches. He isn’t easy, but he is the best guide they can expect as they trek to the feared forest, where people disappear. They all forge a very unusual partnership as they uncover a legacy left by two generations of explorers before them.

This book is one of delightful perpetual eccentricity, which infused me with constant curiosity. Never are you quite sure what will transpire next. There is a constant sense of impending danger, which the characters seem to shake off in their unabated optimism – seemingly believing all will all come good in the end. This amidst a most physically challenging trek. I could almost feel the effects of altitude sickness as they soldiered on through harsh mountainous terrains as their hypoxic brains strained to function and their hearts hammered away trying to compensate for the toil and demands placed on their bodies. The story is carefully weaved through historical times, with dashes of magic, giving it added and interesting layering. There is much mystery to unravel which we discover concurrently as the characters develop and their relationships gradually grow amidst this strange environment. Very nicely done.

Sara Garland 4/3

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
Bloomsbury Circus 9781408878446 hbk Jul 2017


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