Alix Nathan’s debut short story collection, His Last Fire, follows a variety of characters and their lives during 18th century England, a time when the country is shrouded in the atmosphere of revolution and reaching the height of the Enlightenment.
Of course ill could come out of a good act. But surely it would be
inadvertent. No one can intend both good and ill. That defies logic.
I’d seen Alix Nathan’s newest novel, The Warlow Experiment, in a lot of bookshops. The cover is beautiful and the premise is really intriguing; a man, John Warlow, agrees to live underground, isolated from the world for seven years in the name of science. However, this review from Clare Clark in The Guardian suggests that the story is weighed down by extraneous material, and readers would do better to seek out the two short stories which the full novel is based on, originally featured in Nathan’s short story collection, His Last Fire, so that’s what I decided to do.
I will preface this by saying I very rarely enjoy short story collections. I keep trying them, thinking ‘maybe this one will be The One’ but I’m always disappointed. Unfortunately, the same goes for His Last Fire. Most of the stories are in some way connected; a crossing over of characters, a revisiting of setting, which you would think would make the collection more cohesive, but if anything I found it even more difficult to follow. For some reason I had no idea who anyone was or what was going on in most of these stories. Plus, the connections between them meant that I felt I couldn’t start each new one afresh – I was constantly thinking ‘Wait, did I miss something in a previous story?’ or ‘Is this the same chap from before?’ There was also something about the writing style that I could never fully connect with and made following the story even more difficult. Overall, I found this whole collection really hard-going.
I will say, however, that the two stories that formed the basis of Nathan’s novel, The Warlow Experiment, were far more entertaining and enjoyable than anything else in the collection. Named ‘An Experiment: Above’ and ‘An Experiment: Below’, the stories consider the experiment from the perspective of the scientist and then the participant. Maybe it’s because I already knew the premise before beginning the story, but these were much easier to get into and to follow than everything I had read prior. Ultimately, though, this collection wasn’t for me. I enjoyed the stories about the Warlow experiment but I think I’ve had my fill and will give the full-length novel a miss.
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Read for the NEWTs Magical Readathon. Class: Divination. Grade: O.