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Under The Harrow

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  184 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
What if Charles Dickens had written a 21st century thriller? Welcome to Dingley Dell. The Encyclopedia Britannica (Ninth Edition), a King James Bible, a world atlas, and a complete set of the novels of Charles Dickens are the only books left to the orphans of Dingley Dell when the clandestine anthropological experiment begins. From these, they develop their own society, st ...more
Hardcover, 554 pages
Published October 15th 2010 by MacAdam/Cage Publishing (first published January 1st 2010)
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Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

This oversized novel has gotten a bad rap from a lot of reviewers, from being unfavorably compared to other projects for which it shouldn't; it's not exactly a ripoff of The Truman Show, although it shares one of its elements, and it's not exactly a ripoff of M. Night Shyamalen's The Village, despite shari
Sep 05, 2011 Heather rated it liked it
I read and really liked Ella Minnow Pea back in 2004 (I am a sucker for epistolary novels and also for wordplay) but I hadn't sought out or heard about anything else by Mark Dunn until I saw Jenny's post about Under the Harrow back in June. The promise of another quirkily charming book by Mark Dunn was very exciting, and I'm glad to say that, though I initially had a hard time getting into this book, by the end I was pretty won over.

Under the Harrow is the story of a place called Dingley Dell,
Jun 22, 2011 Margaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Margaret by: My older daughter loved this book.
Although this novel is set in western Pennsylvania in 2004, the characters in the odd town of Dingley Dell seem more suited to a Dickens novel than to a novel about twenty-first century Americans. Their language, technology, and culture seem more like 1880 than 2004. And while they are aware of the existence of those who live outside the borders of their town, they do not travel beyond their borders nor do they receive visits from the "Outsiders." The novel is narrated by one Frederick Trimmers, ...more
I read the last 19% at work and I really, really wish I hadn't because I was far too emotionally invested in what happened to these characters. I haven't fought back tears over fictional tragedies like this since I watched "Toy Story 3" and I have never beamed with such joy over fictional victories since.... well, ever.

I maintain that Mark Dunn is a writer's writer, as evidenced by his dazzling wordsmithing prowess. The story he spun in this charming anachronistic gem is absolutely enchanting a
Jun 20, 2011 Kate rated it liked it
I'd give it an extra half point if Goodreads so allowed just for being so delightful a conceit. Unwieldy in execution but, there again, so was Dickens. I'd only give him three stars too (except for "Bleak House").
Feb 12, 2013 Jean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was an inventive, creative dystopian saga. The author had a lot of stamina to weave this rather complicated story and tie all the ends together; I believe he succeeded in doing so. The story is about a community of people who live hidden away somewhere in the U.S. (we later learn they are in Pennsylvania). They live in modern times but are unaware of the world outside their Dickensian, Victorian-era culture. The story is told by one of the citizens of this society known as Dingley Dell ...more
Dec 09, 2012 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I continue to think that the author has a phenomenal way with words, no doubt his being a playwright contributes much to that (as well as his plot development). I have read Mark Dunn's prior books, most having their own conceit (told entirely by letters, or by footnotes) but this, a Dickensian style, seems the most ambitious to date. That being said, it was a slow book and, as I laboured through it, I was grateful that the selected style did not include the tiny print often used for Dickens, as ...more
Mar 05, 2011 Trish rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jake Forbes
Jun 01, 2011 Jake Forbes rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up on a whim from the library's new release shelf as the cover was mysterious and elegant for something filed under sci-fi.

I really enjoyed the first 100 pages or so in a nerdy bibliophile way, but after the reveal, which comes early, the book suffers from a few major flaws. For one, the first person narration just doesn't work. It really seems as if Dunn wanted to write 3rd person, but didn't want to give up the fun of writing with pseudo-period prose. Second, while its easy enough
Ashlyn Gebbie

I originally picked this book up because of the unique story. I like Dickens, and I was interested to see how Mark Dunn would put a modern twist on it. While the book was decent, I had a hard time getting through it. Some of the characters were odd or hard to connect to. In particular, I was never a huge fan of Trimmers. I just felt like the soul was missing.

Even though the characters were lacking, the storyline was certainly interesting and a little disturbing. That's what kept me reading even
Mar 06, 2014 Larry rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book. A community is isolated in a valley and remains culturally in the time of Dickens, as Dickens is the only reading material available to the residents. I'm hardly doing justice to the plot, so I suggest reading the darn thing.
Feb 17, 2011 Leah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up at random from the library because I'm a fan of Dunn's first novel, Ella Minnow Pea. I really enjoy his use of language and the quirky storylines he comes up with, but this book failed to excite me as much as Ella. It has a lot of interesting elements, but by the time I got to the middle of the book it had started to drag. The pace was slow and the story and dialogue weren't all that original. I never got attached to any of the characters and I kept waiting for some great mystery ...more
May 14, 2011 Jen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most original concepts I've encountered in some time. Imagine a society of 11,000 people in rural Pennsylvania, which believes it is fenced in to protect from a worldwide plague, that bases it's culture on an old encyclopedia britannica and the collected works of Charles Dickens. Some curious individuals have left the settlement, but any who return are automatically thrown into Bedlam for treatment and kept isolated. When a few citizens begin to unravel the true history of Din ...more
Jun 13, 2011 Helen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story line is based on an interesting premise (there's a valley in Pennsylvania that has been kept apart from the rest of society and its growth since the 1880's - they've progressed a little, but not much - mostly because they had almost no literature, and strictly limited contact with the outside world). Most enjoyable was the author's very effective affectation of the Dickensian writing style and locution. That made it slow to get into, for those of us who don't currently read a lot of Di ...more
May 30, 2012 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommend -- an original story line about a community still living in the Victorian era in early 21st century Pennsylvania. An experiment begun in 1890 has left a group of orphans to build a world where their only references are the novels of Dickens and a set of encyclopedias. Now Dingley Dell has 11,000 inhabitants, and some of them are beginning to question the stories and presumptions that have kept them from leaving the valley. Their search for answers intersects with the project spo ...more
Ginny Pennekamp
OK, I'll confess: I read half of this book, was actually beginning to enjoy it, and then thought, "I have got to read something entertaining or I am going to die." This book isn't terrible, it's got some enjoyable characters and the spin on the standard plot is fun enough. But something is also really dry and smothering about the whole exercise, and I don't know if it's that Dickens always puts me to sleep, or I saw M. Night's The Village already, or exactly what it is but yeah... man, plowing t ...more
Nov 08, 2012 Emma rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
After reading and absolutely adoring Ella Minnow Pea I was very interested to read another book by Mark Dunn. Although Under the Harrow is a much hefty volume and took a bit moer to get into in the end I wasn't disappointed. Truly unlike anything else I've read before, it somehow seemed to be a mix of classic English fiction, science fiction and George Orwell... Strange, but somehow it works out to be a very compelling story. And, like Ella Minnow Pea what starts out cute and quirky soon turns d ...more
Mar 22, 2014 Aaron rated it liked it
Oh, how I absolutely LOVE Mark Dunn! From the creative mind of Ella Minnow Pea and Ibid (leaving out Welcome to Higby because it's a plain novel) comes another tour de force. Sort of like M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, but with a Victorian, Dickensian slant: this thriller reads like a boring Jane Austen novel! And therein lies another example of Dunn's genius: he wraps a style around a great story. Can't help but love and hate the intentional snail's pace of the plot, reeking with alliteratio ...more
Aug 07, 2012 Kiersten rated it liked it
Not my favorite. Dunn's story of the Dickensian society hidden away in a valley started out with such promise. I like the narrator's voice, and the society or old women he kept. But as the book went on (and on...and on) anything enchanting was replaced with strange, depressing, and downright yucky. I give the book 3 stars for making me think about the way our society has developed, but tha's all I can give it considering I was so happy to finally be done with the book.
Jun 28, 2013 Susan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book has been frustrating me for months. It has all these elements that I traditionally love: a somewhat Dickensian narrator, mystery, people drinking tea. I want to love this book. I feel like I should love this book. But I don't.
It sits on my book shelf with the book mark no further along than the last time I got bored and set it down in favor of something better to read. I'd be interested to hear what others have to say about it.
Sean Patrix
Mar 12, 2011 Sean Patrix rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
• Under the Harrow. By Mark Dunn. I can’t begin to express how much I enjoyed this novel. Imagine a group of people hidden away in a secret valley in Pennsylvania, who have been cut off from the rest of civilization for the last century – and whose main learning consists of the complete collection of Charles Dickens. Lots of dark secrets are about to be revealed. I’m on the lookout for more books by Dunn. An excellent fantasy novel.
Jan 14, 2012 Marcie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Liked the Dickensian flavor and vocab. The premise of an experimental Dickensian society in modern age about to be destroyed was very interesting. Unfortunately, another author trying to sprinkle in homosexuality (where is this in Dickens???!?) where it is unnecessary and unwanted as well as unrealistic (why are none of them antagonists?). Another class warfare book that is also against the rich and those in government or military.
Apr 30, 2013 Bridget rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
I really love the diverse range of characters in this book. Mark Dunn manages to communicate a huge manner of ideas thorough Dickensian language, neatly showing the differences and similarities between modern times and Victorian ones. It's fantastic and intriguing.the poaching is excellent! It grows more and more rapid as the text progresses and gosh his style is wonderful. I think I'll be returning to this one again
Jul 31, 2011 CD rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very clever, very well written. It is a strange little novel with an odd premise, but it works. It works.

Sometimes you just want to read sentences out loud just to hear the musicality of them, they are so beautiful. All of his characters are well thought out and full of depth and emotion. Even the despicable ones have a redeeming characteristic, usually hidden, but somewhere, hidden.

A pleasureable read.
Amy Goodwin
Aug 14, 2012 Amy Goodwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was difficult to get into at first. Kind of slow going. However, once I was a few chapters in I was hooked. I enjoy the concepts that this author comes up with. Once I got several chapters in, I really felt connected to the characters. How the lives of the townspeople become intertwined, and the relationships that develop held my interest and made me feel invested in the story.
Feb 13, 2013 Angie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quirky-fantasy
Whew! Only took me 8 months to read. A fun book written in Dickensian, very Dickensian style. One of those read a couple chapters, put it down for a few weeks, read a little more. In the end it became my read whilst in the bath tub book. Maybe I'll eventually get through Bleak House in the same way.
Dec 24, 2011 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This definitely ranks third under Ella Minnow Pea and Ibid, but it was enjoyable. My main complaint was the ridiculous black and white characters. There were good guys, and bad guys, and the good guy who becomes a bad guy and then goes back to being a good guy. Very predictable and disappointing.
Jan 11, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it
Really liked this story of a secret Dickensian society hidden in rural modern Pennsylvania. Totally preposterous ending, but there was really no other option. Worth pushing through the slightly slow first few chapters.
Mar 10, 2011 Thatsrite rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Liked this book. Slow moving at first, but the language is beautiful, good to savor. A couple of implausible situations (black mamba? who killed JFK?) but suspended disbelief and enjoyed the ride.
May 01, 2011 Jenny rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It's like Mark Dunn saw M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Village' and thought he could do him one better. He shouldn't have bothered. Both efforts are massive failures.
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Mark Dunn is the author of several books and more than thirty full-length plays, a dozen of which have been published in acting edition.

Mark has received over 200 productions of his work for the stage throughout the world, with translations of his plays into French, Italian, Dutch and Hungarian. His play North Fork (later retitled Cabin Fever: A Texas Tragicomedy when it was picked up for publica
More about Mark Dunn...

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“There is indeed power in words. Most of the lasting change that has been forged in the history of this world came not from a wielding of the swift and bloody sword of battle but from the shaping scalpel of ideas, and what are ideas without the words to deliver them?” 4 likes
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