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The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney

The Sacred Combe

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The Desmond Elliott Longlist 2017Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2017.

A timeless, beautifully written novel. Maloney is a gifted writer and storyteller and to have produced the quality of prose that he has here in this debut is exciting indeed.

When Samuel Browne’s wife unexpectedly leaves him he is lost. They were happy or so he thought and suddenly is unsure as the ordered, comfortable life he had come to know is blown apart. In an effort to distract himself from the fallout he immerses himself in books which then leads him to Combe Hall. Resigning from his comfortable job he spends seventeen weeks there as a volunteer working to solve a mystery that lurks amongst the pages of the books in the vast, ancient library. Through these ancient tomes Samuel embarks on a journey in which he hopes to uncover both the secret held within the library's walls and the secret to his own happiness.

This was an absolute joy to read. Maloney’s prose is rather beautiful and I took great joy in lingering and rereading many parts. Drawn to the premise of a mysterious house and ancient library I was intrigued to see what Maloney could add to this appealing but well used subject matter. Maloney’s engaging narrator made my thoughts creep to the familiarity of reading classics such as Brontë or Austen and I instantly warmed to the lost and bewildered Samuel Browne. This is a contemporary story that has the feel of an old soul as a history of the printed word intertwines with the mysteries surrounding a family and their library. There are many messages to be found within the pages but in essence it could be seen as an exploration of the lessons learned from those who have come before and the lives they lived. However I also feel it is a tribute to the written word and encourages us to consider its value to past, present and the future. Simply sublime. ~ Shelley Fallows


The Sacred Combe by Thomas Maloney

'A man's eye is accommodative, like his heart.' Samuel Browne's wife has left him suddenly after three years of marriage. She invites him to 'go and live a better life without me'. He must start again, and alone. And so it is that Sam finds himself deep in the English countryside in a cold but characterful old house, remote and encircled by hills, in the employment and company of an older, wiser man, a man as fond of mystery as he is of enlightenment. What is the purpose of the seemingly hopeless task set for Sam in the house's ancient library? What is the secret of the unused room? And where does a life lose its way or gain its meaning? The combe is home to a truth born of fraud, a building made of light, and a family wrecked by recklessness: loss and love reverberate around the house and around the novel, providing pleasure, pain and purpose. Combe Hall is a house designed to honour and to enthral. And this very fine debut novel does exactly the same.


'A bibliophile's delight, a mystery, a tease, a frisson of dread, a fugue, a literary detective story, a philosophical fable - its imagination exquisitely calibrated to a gentle Gothicism where Bach, Coleridge, Thomas Chatterton and Edgar Allan Poe flit among the shades. Thomas Maloney's perfectly-judged story, with its vital and resonant sense of place, will surely become one of the beloved arcana of English fiction.'
Jim Perrin, author of West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss

'An ingenious and atmospheric first novel, inspired by the discovery of a mysterious library lost deep in the English countryside, and vibrating with the literary and musical echoes of late Romanticism, and lots of weather.'
Richard Holmes, author of Coleridge and The Age of Wonder

'An exceptional first novel - intelligent, intriguing, wonderfully written, and rich with an atmosphere and sense of place that make it a joy to read.'
James Wilson, author of The Summer of Broken Stories

'A very unusual book, at once a trickster tale and a commentary on the canonical texts of Romanticism.'
Joanne Limburg, author of A Want of Kindness

'An atmospheric novel sprinkled with literary and musical allusion.'
Cameron Woodhead Sydney Morning Herald

'Beautiful ... An intriguing gothic mystery.'
Fanny Blake Daily Mail

'A literary hall of mirrors with echoes and ripples running through it.'
The Tablet

About the Author

Thomas Maloney

Thomas Maloney was born in Kent in 1979, grew up in London, and studied physics at university. He is a competent but unexceptional mountaineer and an astigmatic birdwatcher. He lives in Oxfordshire with his wife, daughter, and kayak.

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Book Info

Publication date

12th May 2016


Thomas Maloney

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Scribe Publications


304 pages


Literary Fiction
All Shortlists and Winners

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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