On a ramble through the foothills of a bucolic English past, a country priest meets Death. The two strike up a friendship, and Death follows the priest into town. What follows is a cavalcade of comedy and horror, a set of parables that explore humanity in all its hypocrisy, weakness and cruelty.
Unclay, which has been perpetually out of print since the 1930s, finds new life in this handsome reissue by New Directions. It's unlike anything else I've read: so wicked, so suffuse with cynicism, yet somehow still so funny, playful and poignant.
T. F. Powys is a forgotten genius like no other—and Unclay is his masterpiece
New Directions is proud to present one of the most spellbinding novels you will read this year, and certainly the weirdest.
First published in 1931, Unclay glows with an unworldly light—Death has come to the small village of Dodder to deliver a parchment with the names of two local mortals and the fatal word unclay upon it. When he loses the precious sheet, he is at a loss, and also free of his errand. Hungry to taste the sweet fruits of human life, Mr. John Death, as he is now known, takes a holiday in Dorsetshire and rests from his reaping. The village teems with the old virtues (love, kindness, patience) and the old sins (lust, avarice, greed). What unfolds is a witty, earthy, metaphysical, and delicious novel of enormous moral force and astonishing beauty.
About the Author
T. F. Powys (1875-1953), a novelist and short-story writer, belonged to one of the most remarkable literary families (his brothers include John Cowper Powys and Llewelyn Powys). He was a man who rarely left home or traveled by car, who claimed to love monotony, and who “never gave so much as a sunflower-seed for the busy, practical life.”
Very few 20th-century authors have the knack of writing convincingly of first and last things. T.F. Powys is one of them. — John Gray
Powys’s quaint village brims with eccentrics and sinners, and gentle humor exists alongside a brutal frankness about power and sex. It is hard not to succumb to the strange, animating energy in Powys’s allegorical tale about Death’s redeeming qualities.
An esoteric genius: his books are puzzling, engaging, and illuminating, glowing with a gentle, a half eerie light, humane, ironic and wise. Powys gives pleasure and delight, unique and surprising music.
Grimly brilliant. — John Carey
One of the most original of all English storytellers. T.F. Powys’s novels and the powerful Unclay ‘stand up like oaks.’
"Unclay is such an odd and unlikely book that it seems scarcely more real than the fictional books Borges delighted in. Behold visions that owe a debt to Blake and the novel’s theological concerns and earthy humor harken back to Swift, but Powys’s ambivalence seems hyper-contemporary: I loved this book."
— Matthew Keeley
Heretical, scandalous, and mocking, but essentially parables. — Jorge Luis Borges
Mr. Powys is not a writer for everybody, but I am sure that he is a writer for posterity: indeed, of living authors I consider him the most notable, both as a thinker and a stylist. — Sylvia Townsend Werner