Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson

Thomas Davies is Charles Darwin’s gardener. Recently bereaved, the loss of his wife has left him to bring up his two young children alone. Refusing the consolations offered by the church, he wanders the fields and lanes surrounding the village of Downe and speaks to no-one. What is it that life holds for him now? What will become of his children? And what do his neighbours make of him?

It is not the plot of this novella, however, which is its primary strength, but the way in which it is conveyed. Like an impatient listener turning the tuning dial on a radio from station to station, Carlson’s prose flits from one member of the village congregation to another, a chorus of voices that builds like those of the unruly jackdaws with which the book opens. Yet despite the seriousness of its themes and its consciously experimental form, this is not a depressing or worthy book, and the lightness with which it carries its complexity and the wit with which Carlson has drawn her characters make it a delight to read. A subtle, elegant philosophical and moral puzzle.

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