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The Warlow Experiment

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,321 ratings  ·  235 reviews
Herbert Powyss lives in an estate in the Welsh Marches, with enough time and income to pursue a gentleman's fashionable investigations and experiments in botany. But he longs to make his mark in the field of science--something consequential enough to present to the Royal Society in London. He hits on a radical experiment in isolation: For seven years a subject will inhabit ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 20th 2019 by Doubleday Books (first published July 4th 2019)
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Average rating 3.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,321 ratings  ·  235 reviews

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Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Alix Nathan's brilliant historical novel is inspired by an actual 1797 advertisement, and set in Wales, where Herbert Powys, a well off man living on his estate with his servants, he has no family. He has a strong interest in botany, but is driven by an inner desire to make his mark in the scientific field. He hits on conducting a controversial experiment that seeks to examine the impact of complete isolation on a human being for the period of 7 years, placing an advert in search of a suitable s ...more
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, netgalley
This is an intriguing read, off the beaten path for sure. Going from a "reasonable human experiment" to "yep, that was to be expected". But the journey, wow!

It's 1793. Powyss, a wealthy man, wants to conduct an experiment to find out how resilient the human mind is when isolated from the world. John Warlow is the only one who volunteers, mainly because the offer of £50 a year for the rest of his life is so tempting. He agrees to live in a luxurious but dark apartment in the basement of Powyss ma
A reward of £50 a year for life is offered to any man who will undertake to live for 7 years underground without seeing a human face: to let his toe and fingernails grow during the whole of his confinement, together with his beard. Commodious apartments are provided with cold bath, chamber organ, as many books as the occupier shall desire. Provisions will be served from Mr Powyss’s table. Every convenience desired will be provided

Herbert Powyss, Moreham House, Herefordshire, January 1793.

The pre
MaryannC. Book Freak
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was not a fast read by any means but a captivating one especially since this was based on a true story.
Set in 1792, Herbert Powyss is a wealthy man, a scientist of sorts who wishes to conduct his own experiment and offer labourer John Warlow the princely sum of 50 pounds a year for life if he consents to live underground in a cellar for 7 years without human contact. John is a brutish man who beats his children and has grown tired of his meek wife Hannah, so he willingly accepts the offer t
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book from Serpent's Tail in exchange for an honest review.

In 1793, Welshman Herbert Powyss does not want his name to fall into obscurity and decides to conduct an experiment about the effects of a seven-year solitude on a man's behavior. After constructing underground rooms, Powyss employs semi-literate John Warlow to live there. His clothes and food will be provided for him, but he won't see or speak to another person for over half a decade. Things begin to unravel as Warlow's t
Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan has the best premise I've read all year. Can a man live for 7 years underground without seeing another human face? It's 1792 and Herbert Powyss is a rich middle aged bachelor living in Moreham House in Herefordshire. Powyss enjoys reading scientific papers and cultivating rare plants and vegetables in his vast gardens and greenhouses. He is essentially a man of leisure and learning.

Seeking mention in the scientific journals he reads and the accolades he dream
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nathan’s novel is based on a true story: in 1793, a Mr. Powyss offered £50 a year for life to any man who would undertake to live in solitary confinement underground for seven years, without cutting his nails, hair, or beard, keeping a journal of his thoughts. The advertisement was answered by one man, a labourer with a wife and a large number of children. Nathan skillfully integrates the class upheaval occurring in England at the time, and the voice of John Warlow, the semi-literate ploughman w ...more
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
As someone who cherishes my “alone time” (what reader doesn’t?), I was intrigued by the premise of this book. A wealthy gentleman in 18th century Wales offers to pay a man to live in solitude underground in his converted cellar for 7 years. This is framed as a sort of scientific experiment. The subject is to live in ease and comfort with all his needs supplied and also will have all his outside obligations taken care of. At the end of the 7 year period, he will receive a lifetime income sufficie ...more
Connie G
Mar 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Herbert Powys, a wealthy man from Herefordshire, is a loner interested only in books and horticulture. In 1793 he decides he wants to make his mark on science by conducting an experiment. He advertises for a man that is willing to live in solitary confinement in Powys' nicely furnished basement. The confined man will have a good supply of books and gourmet food, but he must grow his beard and nails during his seven year confinement. Powys has only one man answer his ad--John Warlow, a semi-liter ...more
Jul 16, 2019 rated it did not like it
DNF @ 27%. I thought this was right up my alley. There are many days I think I would be really happy to not see another person for seven years. But I just can't get into the story. Actually I think it's the characters that are my problem. I kept wondering if the author wanted me to like them? Or had they just been drawn unsuccessfully. I understand Warlow was supposed to be uneducated and maybe not the smartest, but he was presented as if he was some kind of caveman without the ability to form c ...more
4.5 May or may not upgrade to a 5. Definitely want to say things about this book as well as the one I just I finished previously, Recursion—both definitely among this year’s favourites, thought I cannot imagine two more different novels either!
Nicki Markus
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-historical
The Warlow Experiment was a gripping read that really caught my attention. The premise comes from a real historical advertisement the author came across, and this is how she imagines the events would have played out. As well as being historical fiction, it is also an intensely psychological piece, looking at both the mental and physical effects of the experiment on all those connected to it. The book made me laugh at some points and had me sobbing in others. It's an emotional work on many levels ...more
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: do-not-recommend
This book was very different from what I expected. I thought it would mostly take the perspective of Warlow, in the basement, and perhaps of Powyss, the experimenter, but the perspectives expanded to that of the house-staff of Powyss, Warlow's wife, and focused on the events of the French Revolution and Enlightenment ideals. It expanded too far to these extraneous events and completely lost focus on our main interest: Warlow and the psychological effects of living in isolation for years. Overall ...more
What a gorgeous hardback this is! It's not too shabby on this inside either.... Fascinating premise and some beautiful writing. I particularly enjoyed the sections (and prose) in which we spend time with Warlow in his cellar. There is a certain inevitability about it all, which means I enjoyed the first half more than the second, but an intriguing, unusual and immersive read. Review to follow shortly on For Winter Nights. ...more
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
Described by author Andrew Taylor as "both fascinating and infinitely strange", I completely agree! This was so strange, but I could not stop reading! The consequences for so many other than Warlow were significant and made for some compelling reading!

The ratings for The Warlow Experiment here on Goodreads are fairly low so I went in with low expectations, and thought it probably wouldn't work all that well for me, but it was simply not the truth. I really enjoyed this one!
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ill conceived "scientific" experiment in the late 1790's results in tragic consequences.

Library Loan
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, literature, favorites
"Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true." That old adage certainly applies to Alix Nathan's terrific tale of the rampant abuses inherent in the days before ethics committees existed. Rich, intellectual, science-loving Herbert Powyss can have anything he wants, and does, but it's not enough. He devises an experiment wherein a man will live sequestered for 7 years in the cellar apartment Powyss has meticulously furnished with books, music, every comfort, and all meals provided. The only p ...more
Bryn Greenwood
A very interesting book, but one that reminded me of my 3-year embargo against reading books written by men. I took that hiatus because I was tired of seeing female characters treated like cardboard cutouts, used to establish the motivation of male characters & move the plot on their behalf. The most powerful part of this story involves violence against a central female character, but it is essentially glossed over from any perspective but that of the two male characters. Although the author of ...more
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Fierce and unfortunate meh vibes from this one; although it starts out strong it descends into camp and is about 40 pages too long. Would that Nathan had been able to reimagine this real-life episode without the violence committed against her female characters.
Chris Roberts
Jul 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Human interaction is a redundancy of projected absurdity -
articulated energy ciphered lowest.

I'd stay in that basement/dungeon for a thousand years.

I am not the only person in the world,
I am the only person with the world inside of me.


Chris Roberts, God Breathtakingly
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and well written book. I loved how the story was told by different POV, the character development and the plot flow.
This is an engrossing and enthralling book.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher for this ARC, all opinions are mine
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
3.5 Stars.

A very interesting and immersive read, of which I didn't realise until the very end that it, in part, is based on a true story. I loved the characters that Nathan has brought to life, even if all of them were deeply flawed one way or another. I could sincerely relate to Mr. Powyss and the secluded, studious life he has chosen for himself and I was deeply upset with how things turned out for him. Even Warlow, strange and beastly as he was for most of this novel and even taking into acco
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
This was a DNF for me, which is a shame because I’m seeing some great reviews of it. It suffered from being read a) on my Kindle and b) as a terribly formatted Netgalley file. But whether I’d have enjoyed it more otherwise is questionable. I found it quite flat and dull, insipidly peopled, with very little to exercise my mind over. I think this is probably a case of book-reader mismatch though because, as I say, excellent people have liked it a lot.
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars, an unsettling and often suffocating frankensteinian read, quite fit for the current quarantined times
Daren Kearl
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was initially drawn to this novel because of the premise - a labourer is paid to live alone, under ground but with a furnished apartment and entertainments such as books and an organ, for seven years as part of an experiment. The author was also drawn to this, as it turns out that this is based on a true account from 1797.
Set in a time of unrest and revolution - the French Revolution and Tom Paine's The Rights of Man are often mentioned - the novel examines the hold that rich had over poor an
John Banks
Feb 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Alix Nathan’s The Warlow Experiment is a beautifully written, wonderful work of historical fiction. Set in 1793 Wales, a well-off gentleman with a keen interest in scientific and botanic pursuits, Herbert Powyss, decides upon an experiment that he hopes will win him fame with the Royal Society in London. This experiment involves placing a person in the three-rooms of his estate’s cellar without human company or interaction for seven years. Powyss wants to record and understand the impact of s
Karen Mace
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! Yep, one of those books that I found to have lived up to the hype that I'd heard about it before buying my own copy! A stunning piece of historical fiction that just made me slow my whole reading speed down so I could savour every word! Think it's fair to say I enjoyed this one!!

When an advert was placed in 1783 by Herbert Powyss looking for somebody to volunteer to live in solitary confinement for 7 years, but surrounded by food, books etc for the princely sum of £50 a year for life, John
The Warlow Experiment is intriguing, odd and in some ways, a little irritating.

Intriguing - what writer or historian hasn't dreamt of that moment where you find something no one else has worked on? That bemusing advert like what led to this book - the deciphering of journals that lead to "Gentleman Jack" - the discovery of old diaries in a dumpster that leads to a memoir of an unknown individual.

Odd - the use of language seemed a strange conceit. Perhaps I've just missed the point.

Irritating - t
May 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
An interesting idea, but the overall execution was lacking for me. Although Nathan's tale is a scathing critique of the prison system, it was downright plodding in places and I would rather watch paint dry than read about horticulture. I was hoping for a bold story that focuses on Warlow, the man living in isolation, but instead, the author directs her energy toward the drama of the household and the (odd) romance between Herbert Powyss (the man with the most Welsh name ever) and Hannah. Perhaps ...more
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Alix Nathan was born in London and educated there and at York University where she read English and Music.

She has lived in Norwich, Munich, Philadelphia, Birkenhead and now in the Welsh Marches where, with her husband, she owns some ancient woodland.

She has published three children’s books and written about Christina Rossetti and the 18th century writer and notorious beauty Mary Robinson.

Since 200

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