A haunting mystery: Enlightenment, by Sarah Perry, reviewed

As ghosts go, Maria Vaduva, who haunts Enlightenment, is not a patch on the wild, tormented figure who stalks the pages of Sarah Perry’s previous novel, Melmoth. Where Melmoth, in rage and despair, haunts everyone complicit in history’s horrors, Maria is crossly plaintive. The disappearance of this unrecognised 19th-century Romanian astronomer from Lowlands House, a manor in the fictional small Essex town of Aldleigh (where marriage has brought her), becomes the obsession of Thomas Hart. He is an unlikely columnist of the Essex Chronicle, and Enlightenment’s central character. It could be said that he is at odds with life and that achieving harmony (on Earth and in heaven) is the

It’s no Jerusalem: Jez Butterworth’s Hills of California, at Harold Pinter Theatre, reviewed

Fifteen years after penning his mega-hit Jerusalem, Jez Butterworth has knocked out a new drama. The slightly baffling title, The Hills of California, refers to a hit by Johnny Mercer (the US songwriter not the MP for Plymouth) and it suggests American themes and locations. But the show is set in a knackered old Blackpool boarding house in the 1970s, where three sisters are waiting for their elderly mum to croak. It takes an hour of chit-chat to explain what’s happening. When the sisters were little, their ambitious mother forced them to perform song-and-dance routines in the hope of launching them as kiddie superstars on the new medium of television.

The joy of Suffex: England’s county that never was

There is a point on the dreaded A12 – a road so soulless it makes the M4 looks like Shangri La – when you reach the end of Essex. If you’re driving from London it takes you a surprisingly long time; there’s a lot of noisy beige concrete to go over – about 60 miles’ worth – with roadside highlights including a large, sad-looking ‘adult shop’ that was clearly a Happy Eater or Little Chef in more innocent times, and dejected-looking service stations with alarming short slip-roads. Then of course there are lorries galore thundering along, laden with shipping containers bound for Felixstowe, Britain’s happiest sounding port. Heading east you’ll pass signs

From Suffolk to Essex: why moving east makes sense

You might remember, back before Covid, when life was ‘normal’, at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon, the Volkswagens, Audis and Jaguars clogging up the pavements of Kensington, Parsons Green and Hammersmith would one by one nudge out, and make for the Great West Road, duly clotting the A4 like a fast-food addict’s aorta. To all points west they would go – to the dewy hamlets of Hampshire, to the honeyed villages of the Cotswolds, to the pebbled beaches of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, to the curvaceous nooks of Devon’s South Hams. But there is another way you can go, my friends, one which isn’t west. You can go east. And, boy,