Book Review: ‘The Hopkins Manuscript,’ by R.C. Sherriff – The New York Times
“Journey’s End” was a surprise hit. The first brief run was directed by James Whale and featured a young Laurence Olivier as Stanhope, after which the production changed theaters and lead actors; the play’s success allowed Sherriff to move into a handsome country house with his mother. (His biographer, Roland Wales, says that he never seems to have had a romantic relationship with anyone.) In 1931, he published “The Fortnight in September,” a nearly perfect comic novel about a family’s trip to the seaside, and, two years later, was recruited by Whale to write the script for Universal Pictures’ adaptation of “The Invisible Man,” by H.G. Wells. It was Sherriff’s first professional brush with science fiction, and a few years later, he embarked on an even more ambitious attempt at the genre, as the world seemed on the verge of repeating the mistakes of the Great War.
“The Hopkins Manuscript” opens with a foreword by the Imperial Research Press of Addis Ababa, which states that the text that follows was discovered in a thermos flask “in the ruins of Notting Hill.” More than 800 years have passed since an unspecified cataclysm caused the end of Western civilization, and all records of Britain since the time of Julius Caesar have been lost, apart from a few stray fragments, such as a tablet commemorating the dedication of a public swimming pool in North London. Scholars of ancient history, the foreword notes, hoped that the manuscript would shed light on England’s final days, but they were disappointed to find nothing but the testament of “a man of such unquenchable self-esteem and limited vision that his narrative becomes almost valueless to the scientist and historian.”
As the story begins, the reader has little reason to question this statement. Edgar Hopkins is a retired schoolmaster in his early 50s who lives on an estate near the village of Beadle, where he breeds chickens for poultry shows. As an associate member of the British Lunar Society, he is among the first to hear the news that the moon is expected to collide with the earth in just under seven months. The science of the looming disaster is left deliberately vague — the moon’s departure from its habitual orbit is attributed to “some gigantic force” — and Hopkins is unable to believe that anything bad will really occur: “My vanity persuaded me that God would never permit the world to end until I personally had finished with it.”
The premise might remind certain movie fans of Roland Emmerich’s recent “Moonfall,” which offered …….