First Lines: I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple-trees.
I bought this ages ago at a sale because I kept seeing it always cropping up. I really love the era of the Revolutionary War, so I wanted to check this out.
This one is weird enough that I’m just going to copy the description from Goodreads: Young Octavian is being raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers — but it is only after he opens a forbidden door that learns the hideous nature of their experiments, and his own chilling role them. Set in Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson’s mesmerizing novel takes place at a time when Patriots battled to win liberty while African slaves were entreated to risk their lives for a freedom they would never claim. The first of two parts, this deeply provocative novel reimagines past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.
This book didn’t quite come off the way I expected it to. It’s the kind of story that chronicles Octavian’s whole life, which means the action took an incredibly long time to get going. There’s nearly 400 pages in this book and I am not exaggerating when I say it probably took at least 200 to really get rolling. The first half is long, drawn-out, and confusing because Octavian is brought up in really weird circumstances. I nearly rethought my initial enthusiasm.
I will say that the choice of narrator is interesting for this time period. Octavian is a slave in Boston, which in and of itself sounds strange because we generally forget that Boston at one time had slaves. And as Octavian is quick to point out, the hypocrisy in fighting for freedom from Britain while holding slaves is definitely one that stands out. So I give it kudos for having an interesting perspective.
And I liked that it was a thoughtful and…I think the word I’m looking for is mature…read. But like, academically mature, not mature like we think of mature now. It frequently references Classical literature and uses big words that I (as an English teacher) rarely run across. And it used outdated language to make the time period feel real. I respected that, though it definitely slowed down my reading.
I was kind of hit-and-miss with the characters. There were some I greatly liked, others I sort of liked (like our narrator, Octavian), and others that I knew I should have liked, but didn’t. It was sometimes hard to really like the story when main characters were getting on my nerves.
Overall, I was expecting better but it wasn’t a complete wash. There were good moments.