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All the Devils are Here Paperback – 13 Mar 2003
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All the Devils Are Here is a tour of the coastal towns of Kent, mingling reportage with historical and literary anecdote. In Pickwick Papers, Mr Jingle remarks, "Kent, sir--everybody knows Kent--apples, cherries, hops and women." This is not the Kent that Seabrook knows or presents. He has no interest in the county created for the tourist, the Kent of the heritage industry. Seabrook's Kent is a Garden of England that is overgrown with weeds and blighted with decay, decadence and death. In the present, he finds run-down city centres filled with the unemployed and the hopeless, and heavy with a sense of poorly suppressed violence. When he travels back into the past, the stories he unearths are dark ones. Rochester and Chatham, peopled by Dickensian ghosts, are also the setting for Seabrook's account of the life of the Victorian artist Richard Dadd who murdered his father because he thought he was the devil and spent the rest of his life in a lunatic asylum. Broadstairs provides the backdrop for pro-Nazi networks in the 1930s and for the sinister William Joyce, later to be better known as Lord Haw-Haw. Deal is the stage on which the Carry On star Charles Hawtrey plays his last role as a drunken old queen, bouncing from pub to pub and rent boy to rent boy. Seabrook's style, a kind of Iain Sinclair-by-the-Sea, is compelling and his first book is one to admire. Some parts do not work well. The autobiographical passages and the hints of a personal revelation that never quite materialises often seem forced and unnecessary. But the book has an undeniable power as an unveiling of the nightmares that co-exist with the dreams of "apples, cherries, hops and women".--Nick Rennison --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'At first it all seems simply an original prose style; but then it takes on a greater emotional weight: empathy' -- The Guardian
'Engaging and impressive debut Seabrook is to be congratulated' --Times Literary Supplement
'Manifestly a product of sincere preoccupation as well as genuine talent' -- Sunday Times
'[A] decidedly creepy and unsettling corpse-strewn journey through the seaside towns of Kent. A sort of literary beachcomber, digging around in a grubby pool of fact, anecdote and tenuous connection, [Seabrook] begins with the tale of the painter and patricide Richard Dadd and ends with the supposed true story that inspired Joseph Losey's 1963 film The Servant.' --Lucy Scholes, BBC Culture
'Seabrook explores these legends, peppering the text with his own musings in an entertaining and engaging fashion' -- Waterstones Books Quarterly
'[Psychogeography] doesn't begin to capture its intense interest, its uncanny spookiness, the way it ensnares you, turning your stomach, messing with your head... All the Devils Are Here demands to be reread, picked over, endlessly discussed... And yet to know it is somehow not to know anything at all' --Rachel Cooke, Observer
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'All the Devils Are Here' is about Kent. Kent past and present, but mainly past. It has an acute sense of place, and I enjoyed David Seabrook's constant linking of disparate places, events and other information, often relayed via a feverish inner monologue.
In Rochester, Seabrook finds a heritage town trapped in its own history where he explores the bizarre life of Victorian painter Richard Dadd, and his possible connection to Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In Broadstairs, he connects Lord Curzon, John Buchan, Lord Haw-Haw, Oswald Mosley, and a Nazi con-man, who happens to be Audrey Hepburn's father. Finally to Deal, and the last days of Charles Hawtrey via Robin Maugham, the true story of 'The Servant', Freddie Mills, the Jack The Stripper murders, and Gordon, an ageing homosexual with a good memory and intriguing tales.
David Seabrook inserts himself into the narrative, never really explaining himself or his agenda, but his part adds to a growing sense of unease. David Seabrook both loves Kent and is freaked out by what he uncovers, or what he imagines he uncovers. His perceptions and connections often appear to be a reflection of his own tortured psyche.
Overall David Seabrook's trawl round the coast of Kent results in a very unusual and disturbing memoir, but one I generally found absorbing and compelling. It starts slow but gradually gains momentum, getting better and better. It's creepy and atmospheric, and a book I intend to reread.
David Seabrook died on 18 January 2009.
With its pretty patchwork of fields, Kent is "the garden of England". Few think of this English county as nightmarish, but David Seabrook is an exception - as becomes clear in his debut, All the Devils are Here, a disturbing memoir that is part literary history and part detective story. Travelling to the Medway, Seabrook plunges into the region's sordid underbelly, exposing a secret history of murder and betrayal, and of rent-boys preyed on by washed-up actors and writers.
Seabrook's account draws the reader into a terrible world. In Chatham, he stumbles on the story of Richard Dadd, a talented painter who murdered his father and may have inspired Dickens' last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In Broadstairs, the trail turns up a fascist network linking Oswald Mosley to Lord Haw-Haw and Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps. In Deal, the tale connects Somerset Maugham to the Carry-on films and a series of brutal murders in London.
Seabrook conveys a squalid, sombre atmosphere. His stories are compelling, and, with its fusion of events from history near and far, All the Devils are Here attempts to do for Kent what WG Sebald's The Rings of Saturn did for East Anglia. However, Seabrook's prose - somehow both terse and chatty - fails to provide the emotional depth conveyed by Sebald, and some of the connections between the stories remain frustratingly opaque. Nonetheless, by the end of the book, no one will be in any doubt that Kent is far more devilish than any of us had ever supposed.
David Seabrook has a fresh theory on the genesis of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and a glorious putdown for that scrofulous dump Chatham. A ramble through the coastal Kent undergrowth unearths Lord Haw haw and his daughter, John Buchan and the 39 steps, the British Union of Fascists, the drunken decline of Charles Hawtrey and other compulsive predators, TS Elliot, Freddie Mills, and much more.
Full of arcane knowledge and well written, with occasional poetic flourishes. An absorbing page turner that will repay repeat reading.
It's a book that's almost impossible to categorise but, if you're interested in history- especially in the 'back stories' - and in people's lives and connections, then you will enjoy this. Just expect the unexpected!
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