The author, in an afterward, indicates that he had found an ad in the British Chronicles for the year 1797 looking for an individual to live a completely isolated life for seven years. This person would have no contact with other people for the period. If the seven years passed with no contact with the outside world, and after obtaining a report from the person, a stipend would be paid for life each year for as long as the individual lived. Nathan could find no further information about the ad’s results and finally decided to write a novel detailing possible results for both the buyer and the seller of this strange service.
That is precisely what is detailed in the book. Herbert Powyss, in the interest of publishing the results of said experiment to present to the Royal Society in London, hires John Warlow to live in three rooms in the house Powyss lives in. He is to live in complete isolation from the outside world. Food and other necessities would be delivered to Warlow via a dumb waiter and to relieve him of worries about his wife and children they would receive a cash allowance for the period of the experiment. Conditions would involve no contact with anyone other than receipt of the necessities sent silently via the dumbwaiter.
The novel becomes a very intriguing read in two ways. First, of course, is the actions of all the people involved in the account. Details are discussed for Warlow and Powyss as each begins to play their parts. Also, others involved including Warlow’s wife, and the servants working for Powyss are major parts of the story. The period in which the novel takes place is during the French Revolution and the ensuing entrance of Napoleon and French militarism including war with England. These conditions play out in the background and have an effect on the personnel involved with the story. Second, and the most interesting part of the narrative, are the psychological changes each participant undergoes. How does Warlow react through the complete loneliness he experiences. The feelings held by Powyss confronted by both the conditions created by him as part of the experiment as well as meeting with Warlow’s wife every time she passes by to pick up the allowance she receives while her husband cannot work. The servants all have some obligation towards Warlow – readying his meals, sending books and other items contracted by him for the course of his confinement, cleaning his clothes and emptying the chamber pot used for waste disposal.
The novel is impossible to put down before completed. The world of almost 250 years ago is described and Nathan brings in conditions during that time and how they influence what is happening in the novel. A different novel and one that is guaranteed to capture and keep the readers’ interests.
8/19 Paul Lane
THE WARLOW EXPERIMENT by Alix Nathan. Doubleday (August 20, 2019). ISBN 978-0385545334. 272p.