Ah, I struggle with a synopsis, but here you go. THE NEXT (alongside the other stuff).
This is for you, Alex Campbell. x
The Life of Almost
A Life Of Very Little Expectation
The Life of Almost is a re-working of the story in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, shifting its setting to a wild, mysterious and comical rural South West Wales, the West Country and the suburbs of London. Some characters are based on those found in its stimulus, but others are original —such as Evans the Bodies, keeper of the mortuary and devoted to his Dead Dears. And Muffled Mfanwy, who works with him and with whom Evans has been in love his entire life; their story in startling surroundings is a counterpoint to other love stories in the book, such as that between Almost and the cruel Seren, adopted daughter of the claw-handed spinster Miss Davies, at Clandestine House off the sea coast on the Cleddau Estuary.
Almost is a boy with poor beginnings, who begins his life shrouded by bereavement, the struggling, the bitter and those on the run from the law and from life; he is also surrounded by the hauntings of the undead of his family and the cliff-top communities around him. He plays in the sea caves, visits graves, like Pip, sings into the sea and likes to tell stories—and telling stories is a key theme of the book. Many strands of the narrative I took not from Dickens but from the oral tradition of my large Pembrokeshire family, such as accounts of poltergeists throwing furniture and vases from the fireplace, gibbering dead and moss that caught your foot and sucked at you if you didn’t move quickly enough; things that enthralled and terrified me as a small child. The drownings, skewerings and disappearances that have always rattled in my imagination find form in The Life of Almost.
Almost is dragged up by his sister Perfection, both of them kept in their place from beyond the grave by their mother and grandmother. Almost cries with the name his late mother gave him because he feels he will never amount to much, but gradually he begins to realise that, by calling to the world around him and by telling stories, extraordinary things begin to happen. For Almost is, really, an extraordinary boy.
Almost has, like Pip, a secret benefactor and a true love; he has his own convict and a cruel sister, but this re-working of the story adds more spectral, supernatural elements and more comedy in that Almost, through his story-telling develops the gift of moving through time and through form so as to come and rescue others from suffering, hardship and the loneliness of loss. It is at this point, at the beginning of the book, where we meet him, when as he appears to Catherine who begins the story, sitting, lost and stifled “in the squalid summer of 2016”.
Almost is supported by his devoted mermaids, Dilys and Nerys, who follow him, changing form (I have drawn on extensive mermaid lore in my research for the book), and by a number of friends in different locations. But readers of Great Expectations, would recognise adaptations of characters, such as Pip’s friend, Herbert Pocket, Miss Havisham, Estella and Jaggers (the latter, for example, recast as a lugubrious but prosperous journeyman, basking in his gold and quoting Jonson’s Volpone from his gated community a long way from Almost’s Pembrokeshire!).
I have allowed some risk-taking with the novel’s form in its use of original poems as epigraphs, all of which key in to the themes in the novel, as they describe the dark vagaries of the Welsh landscape, which is itself a key character in the book, living and breathing and casting penumbra and surrounded by the sea. I have also offered two endings to the love story in my book because I wanted to bring to mind how Great Expectations might have been radically altered in its reception, had Dickens been encouraged to use his original ending, far more melancholy that that which replaced it.