The Warlow Experiment

Alix Nathan. Doubleday, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-54533-4
Nathan’s intriguing yet overlong U.S. debut tracks what happens after an experiment in late-18th-cenutry Wales goes awry. In 1793, the wealthy Herbert Powyss, seeking to “contribute something important to the sphere he so admired: natural philosophy, science,” devises an experiment—to have a man live in total isolation for seven years in chambers deep under Powyss’s Welsh estate. The incentive is £50 per year for life, and only one man applies: the semiliterate, working-class John Warlow. Warlow is given ample comforts—the same food that Powyss eats (delivered via dumbwaiter) and any book he desires. But Warlow has little interest in reading and can barely write in the journal he’s supposed to keep; he’s more interested in the frogs he finds in his chambers. Complications further ensue when Powyss develops an affection for Hannah, Warlow’s wife. Naturally, the experiment doesn’t go as planned, but the novel never picks up a full head of steam, instead remaining largely static narratively and devoting ample page space to the servants on the estate. There are provocative wrinkles—such as whether it’s an inevitability that Powyss was going to hate the man he is experimenting on—but the story takes too long to get where it’s going and doesn’t fully land once it does. Nathan’s novel never fully lives up to its promising premise. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/14/2019
Release date: 08/20/2019
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-0-385-54534-1
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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