I don’t remember how I heard about The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, but I saw it on a library shelf not long after I heard about it, so of course I had to check it out (pun intended). The story concentrates on two brothers, Rob the older from whose perspective the story comes, and Charley the younger, genius of the sort who finished a PhD and publishes an academic book on Dickens at the age of nineteen. There is the usual kind of brotherly tension you might expect in a way that reminded me of that tv show about the math professor who had been a similar level of child genius and his FBI agent older brother. In this case, Rob is a lawyer, and instead of California, the story takes place in New Zeland (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s where Wellington is). The big problem between the brothers is that Charley has the ability to bring characters alive out of their books, which means that he and often Rob have to get them back into the books before they cause trouble. Uriah Heep gets out in the opening scene, and has to be forcibly put back into the novel. Rob seems to resent having to help his brother, especially since Charley seems kind of careless and absent minded, but naturally this stems from deeper issues, of which we are occasionally reminded through excerpts from Charley’s childhood diaries. Then it turns into bigger problems and book characters turn up that Charley may not have called out, and then the brothers are pulled into the mystery of who might be responsible and how to fix things before the reality of their world is permanently altered.
I on the one hand like the premise, but I also feel like I’ve seen this whole thing before. Maybe not all in one book, but I’ve seen the family dynamic (mentioned above), I know I’ve seen the pull things out of books and have to put them back somewhere although I can’t remember where, and I’m almost positive I’ve seen the big twist near the end involving the whole Sutherland family somewhere else before. I’m also fairly certain I’ve seen versions of The Street somewhere too, although maybe not necessarily as a haven for displaced book characters. I also wonder why the focus on Uriah Heep, since although he is a presence in the novel, he never really feels like enough of a character to merit the title.
For me, there was a lot going for this novel, but I didn’t love it as much as I might have. I’m thinking it’s because I swear I recognize a lot of things from elsewhere, but because I can’t remember where, that bugs me. In case you hadn’t guessed that already.