‘But what’s wrong with this city? Why the long face on the cathedral clock? Whose shadow darkens the sundial?
I check my dates. Thirteen decades have passed. The removal of mourning rings may require soap if Rochester ever recovers (which looks doubtful).
‘It’s hard to rationalise what I’m seeing today on my afternoon stroll: flint walling, personalised number plates, a QPR sticker in a bedroom window. Spindrift, Winday Bay, Lindisfarne – houses which clamber on top of one another like mad-eyed toads in a jar.’ All the Devils are Here, 2002.
The word mystery comes to mind when approaching Seabrook and his work - a fitting word, given the author’s obsession with the local lore and hidden historical disjecta membra of Kent’s coastal towns, and intertextually apposite given Seabrook’s extended analysis of Drood in All the Devils Are Here (2002), where he offers Richard Dadd (he of the unfinished Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke) as the inspiration for Dickens’s eponym, whose cruel parricide, Seabrook opines, served as fodder for the (probable) fate of the forever-deferred Edwin.
The Wiki page, the flyleaf to the Granta edition of Devils: same story. Found dead in his Canterbury lodgings, ‘there is unconfirmed speculation that Seabrook was murdered’; his writings, we learn, are ‘mysterious, incandescent’, and, life again mirroring art, Seabrook’s own literary fate matching that of the many scattered scraps he pursues in Devils, they ‘are now considered lost’.
Fragments shored against ruins.
Devils begins in Margate, where Seabrook connects Eliot with a series of mysterious, or recently erased, locales: the Victorian shelter overlooking the sands where he composed what was to become parts of ‘The Fire Sermon’, the Albermarle hotel (on the Eastern Esplanade in Cliftonville - gone), and, improbably, Dreamland, which had opened in 1920, and whose name looks forward to Seabrook’s second, obsessive chapter, ‘Daddlands’. Taking in Ramsgate, Broadstairs (where Seabrook is less concerned with the obvious - because well attested - Dickensian links, and more keen to explore the scandalous backwaters linking George Curzon, John Buchan and Frank Richards), Deal and Dover - this is a local book for local people. Or for DFL’s like me, who plump for life in cinque port semi-solitude, and who are therefore seldom exposed to the Seabrookian topoi of death, dirt, disease, murder. And mystery.
All the Devils Are Here is an essential addition to any library of the odd and uncommon. Put Seabrook on a shelf with Kafka, Lovecraft, Beckett, Hoffmann, Eco and Borges, and he fits right in: liminal, disruptive, hard to pin down.
Final words? Perhaps best to end with those from the Observer review, ominously appended to the back page of the Granta edition: to know Devils, we are told, ‘is somehow not to know anything at all.’
It’s a right old mystery.
Seabrook, David. All the Devils are Here. London: Granta