“I have fifty days to live. I don’t mean roughly fifty days. I mean exactly. My life ends on 30th December 2016.”
These are the opening lines of Drowned Hogg Day. Narrator, Alex Hogg, must come to terms not only with the wreckage of his life but the certainty of his imminent drowning. Part-comedy, part-history, part-thriller, Drowned Hogg Day charts the last fifty days of Alex’s life as he discovers a series of extraordinary historical parallels to his situation.
Alex finds that his predicament mirrors that of two of his predecessors at University College, Oxford. One is Thomas Jefferson Hogg, sent down by the college authorities along with his close friend, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The second is Prince Felix Yusupov, the ringleader of the plot to murder Rasputin in the Moika Palace, St Petersburg. Alex discovers that the assassination of Rasputin took place on 30th December 1916 while Shelley married Mary Godwin, the author of Frankenstein, on 30th December 1816. Spooky coincidence, or the key to understanding and avoiding his own fate?
These three parallel stories are linked in innumerable ways — drownings, Madeira, car crashes, unequal male friendships, etc. Alex finds himself playing golf with Bill Clinton, masquerading as Bill Wyman and almost murdering his boss in the college Development Office, as the plot careers through a series of comic catastrophes. One surprise follows another and suspense is maintained right through to the shocking dénouement — will Alex live or die?
Drowned Hogg Day is intended for publication in November/December 2016, first as a series of blogs and then in book form. Interest in the novel will be stimulated by accompanying historical articles about these two notable centenaries, performances/recordings of two plays based on the events of 30th December 1816/1916, a cryptic crossword to appear in the Guardian or the Telegraph on 30th December, and so on.
Nick Smith is a former Oxford academic and author of Bridge Literature, Bridge Behind Bars and Suspense in the English Novel, as well as a number of plays and historical articles. Nick, the founder and Principal of Oxford Open Learning, appeared on Mastermind in 2012, answering questions on the Life and Works of Thomas Jefferson Hogg. This is his first novel.