Saturday 23 February 2019

Book Review: The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan (Historical Fiction)

Title: The Warlow Experiment
Author: Alix Nathan
Serpent's Tail

Publication Date: 4 July 2019
eBook - PDF
Historical Fiction
ARC via NetGalley


The year is 1792 and Herbert Powyss is set on making his name as a scientist. He is determined to study the effects of prolonged solitude on another human being, though before now Powyss's sole subjects have been the plants in his greenhouse. He fills three rooms beneath Moreham House with books, paintings and even a pianoforte, then puts out an advertisement, hoping for a gentleman recluse to claim the substantial reward.

The only man desperate enough to apply is John Warlow, a semi-literate farm labourer who needs to support his wife Hannah and their six children. Cut off from nature and the turning of the seasons, Warlow soon begins losing his grip on sanity. Above ground, Powyss finds yet another distraction from his greenhouse in the form of Hannah, with whom he rapidly becomes obsessed. Does she return his feelings, or is she just afraid of his power over her family's lives?

Meanwhile, the servants are brewing up a rebellion inspired by recent news from across the Channel. Powyss may have set events in motion, but he is powerless to prevent their explosive and devastating conclusion.

Elegantly told and utterly transporting, The Warlow Experiment is an outstanding literary novel that announces a major new voice in British fiction.

The Warlow Experiment was a gripping read that really caught my attention. The premise comes from a real historical advertisement the author came across, and this is how she imagines the events would have played out. As well as being historical fiction, it is also an intensely psychological piece, looking at both the mental and physical effects of the experiment on all those connected to it. The book made me laugh at some points and had me sobbing in others. It's an emotional work on many levels. I would definitely be keen to read more from Nathan in the future as her writing blends wonderful description with a great understanding of the human psyche.

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