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••• The International Writers Magazine: Review

Parliament of Rooks by Karen Perkins
(Lionheart Publishing House, 2017)
Ghosts of Haworth
• Marwan Asmar
Haworth is haunted, the place is beset by spirits, hallowing over every house so watch out! Testified to this is the Parliament of Rooks by Karen Perkins which had me enthralled with nostalgia.

Parliament of Rooks

I was taken back to the wonderful, boring days of “A” level history lectures I used to take and the awesome Yorkshire lingo that would tingle your ears everywhere you went. It brought back wonderful memories about the Bronte sisters, Wuthering Heights and the Yorkshire dales: The green, roving mounts, the cold and the outcast, a place of living and connection.

Parliament of Rooks is literally an astonishing book to read because of the framework it adopts, muting the present with the past with the paranormal. The move by Verity from Leeds to see up shop in Haworth and start a new life is more than she bargained. For me I suddenly remembered all the streets, places and the neigbourhoods I used to frequent and dwell in, not to mention the shops and pavements. It was a visit on paper, yet a reflective reverie. The rich narrative combined deep human relations and friendships with a living society of the past and the way they interacted.

In a clever, imaginative and didactic way, the author forges together a narration that stitches current living characters and historical personalities enthused through dreams, memories and wishful-thinking, filtering through “ghosts” and “spirits” of people that once lived. These are a bit far-farfetched but fiction provides the ability to give realism a strange twist that is believed and it certainly keeps the adrenalin going.   

There is power in the narrative. Whilst the ghosts throughout the text may have been trying to point the characters to “well-meaning” directions which may add to the sense of bizarre and creepiness, the track of the narrative is lucid and simple. It provides an uncanny ability to enmesh the dialogue of the past and present cultures and styles of livings (owing to different factors) with a sense of trajectory realism and a continuum of a timeline of a very important period of history that has dipped itself into the sinews of the present.

This is indeed the force of literature and ideas with the narrative skillfully dispatching and manipulating different lives without losing a sense of proportion of both. In the text, we are constantly introduced to Emily Bronte and her family, of her sisters, brother and her pastor father. She comes out as a strong and willful character who will not stop in helping people, languishing in their misery, poor health, near-starvation. Negations don’t stop her, here also is where the author introduces the fact she has written the Weathering Heights despite her other chores and the fact it was first to be under a pseudonym, something which I didn’t know of.

Emily comes out through Martha and Harry and the constant bickering and jealousy over long-forgotten relationships that never seem to end. Martha is constantly resentful of the “talks” that constantly take place between Emily and Harry but which she can’t become part of due to her own intense jealousy that finally lead to catastrophic consequences. Here the reader, can discern there is a direct link in the historical characters and those of the present which the story focuses on: Verity, after a divorce, moves to Haworth to start a guesthouse for visitors to this historical place. She is helped by her friends Lara, her young daughter and their friend Jayne which become hard rock. They in turn develop relationships including with Vikram, the house builder, and the painter William were romance develops.

It is these characters that move the story forward were the reader is constantly reminded of the anguish, almost unflinching battle, taking place between the characters of the past, employed in the mill, on measly wages while living day-by-day to make ends meet, footnoted by terrible conditions, bad drinking water and constant deaths, especially among children. Cutting the ghosts out, this is where the writer excels in, providing a readable rich history of how things were in Britain in the 1850s. Here, we get a graphic description of child labor, of girls and boys sent to the mill at the age of seven, eight and nine, to supplement the wages of their parents and frequently become involved in tragic accidents caused by spinning machines they are too young to understand and handle, of the long working hours and the drudgery of life, terrible days that speak of the hawks of industrialization.    

Of course, there are lighthearted episodes in this work of fiction, identifying with metaphors and expressions that make you see the character in front of you with mirth coming out through the dialogue that makes the reader smile. Not every writer has the ability to convey true dialogue, Perkins is not one of them. It is not only true British dialogue but dialogue of the Yorkshire variety.
© Marwan Asmar October 2017

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