Except it’s not. The book is, in fact, a novel, and the character of Thomas Darwin is entirely fictitious, the product of the rather lively imagination of author, Harry Karlinsky - as is the account of Thomas’s struggle to emerge from his father’s imposing shadow, his slow descent into madness, and his tragic early death in a Canadian asylum.
However, Karlinsky’s construct is so utterly convincing, the story so absorbing, that I would challenge any reader not to lose sight of the book’s fictional nature at least once during the reading. I, for one, had to remind myself several times that this tragic life had never, in reality, been lived.
This blurring of the lines between reality and illusoriness is achieved by combining actual biographical data of the Darwin family with wholly factitious sources, including the invented correspondence of Charles and his wife, Emma. In taking this approach, the author deftly weaves a tangled web of fact and fantasy, which mirrors the deluded mind of his subject, as it oscillates between the realms of sanity and insanity.
This is a gem of a novel – eccentric, discombobulating, delightful.
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