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The Warlow Experiment

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  323 ratings  ·  81 reviews
An utterly transporting and original historical novel about an eighteenth-century experiment in personal isolation that yields unexpected--and deeply, shatteringly human--results.

"The best kind of historical fiction. Alix Nathan is an original, with a virtuoso touch."
--Hilary Mantel

Herbert Powyss lives in an estate in the Welsh Marches, with enough time and income to pur
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Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 20th 2019 by Doubleday Books (first published July 4th 2019)
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3.42  · 
Rating details
 ·  323 ratings  ·  81 reviews


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Dean the Bibliophage
Could you live underground for seven years in solitary confinement? What if you had access to a plethora of books, hot food and fresh clothes every day, and were paid? But what if you had to live naturally, no cutting of hair or nails?

(Just food, water and books? Only if Amazon delivers)

The Warlow Experiment is an engrossing and macabre historical novel that grips your every sense, the strangeness of Nathan’s prose and adroitly crafted realism of the Herefordshire county an absorbing triumph. Th
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ABCme
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
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Joseph
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
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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
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Eleanor
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
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
Dianah
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, favorites, literature
"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
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
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Kate
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.
Annarella
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
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.
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.

#poem

Chris Roberts, God Breathtakingly
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
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Tilly
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was truly intriguing and immersive. I became wholly consumed by the tale. I would give it 4🌟 but the beginning was definitely a slow burn. The second half was fascinating though; a critical analysis of what extreme solitude can do to a person; how one can be driven insane by isolation; an exploration of what madness really means. The book makes you feel empathy for so many of the characters, questioning the im/moral. I’m now even more in awe to find that the author crafted this novel f ...more
Tara Lewis
I have been anxious to read this since Alix shared the premise. To hold this beaut in my hands was pure joy. Congratulations, Alix, on this absolutely engrossing, stunning work. I couldn't put it down!!

The premise is real; the experiment did happen, and locally to me. The old family names are the same, the area, and the atmosphere. It is beautifully written and the gradual decline to darkness is so believable, and the characters so believable, that you can't help but wonder about the outcome in
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Christopher Jones
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
ABSOLUTELY TOTALLY UNPUTDOWNABLE ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤ ...more
Brooke
Jul 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Janet
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
What an excellent book. The story was totally gripping right from the start. A beautifully-written and poignant story with a great sense of the historical period. The characters were well-drawn. A very thought-provoking and original novel.
I received a free review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest and unedited review.
Sandra Danby
This is a story of two men. One plays at being a god. The other grabs a chance to escape poverty. ‘The Warlow Experiment’ by Alix Nathan is about power, ambition, control, the disintegration of respect and vanishing of common sense. What a breath of fresh air this book is; it is so unusual. The country gentleman who conducts the experiment, Powyss, is an isolated character. He has no family and, when he has the idea of experimenting with the life of another man, thinks he is doing good by suppor ...more
Georgia Challinor
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
'Some time ago, a Mr Powyss, of Moreham near Prefton, offered by public advertisement, a reward of fifty pounds for life, to any man who would undertake to live for seven years under ground, without seeing a human face; and to let his toe and finger nails grow during the whole of his confinement, together with his beard. Commodious apartments were provided under ground, with a cold bath, a chamber-organ, as many books as the occupier should desire, and provisions were to be served from Mr P's ta ...more
Kathleen
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
Andy Weston
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Powyss is a country gentleman of the Welsh Marches. He prefers gardens and books to people, and submits his minor horticultural findings to the world's preeminent scientific body, the Royal Society. It’s 1793 and the French have just guillotined Louis XVI. He is a loner, with only the odd necessary word to his servants and nothing more. Mistakenly feeling that he is at the front of scientific research, he devises an experiment for a man to live underground for 7 years, paying his wife and family ...more
Gem
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.

A dark and spiralling tale set in 1793, and based on a real adver
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Katie Blagden
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The intriguing premise of this book is based on a real listing that Alix Nathan found in a 1700s newspaper - namely, that Mr Powyss wanted to pay someone £50 per annum to live in his basement, with absolutely no contact from the outside world, for seven years.

Beyond this wonderful hook, Nathan does a great job of fleshing out the ‘what if..?’ into a sustained, gripping story. Surprisingly, the most intriguing characters aren’t necessarily Powyss, the psuedo-scientific master of the experiment,
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Kali Napier
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The premise is intriguing enough -- based on a snippet that tells of a man named Powyss who advertised for a man to live underground with all comforts for seven years in the late 18th century -- but it is what Alix Nathan has woven from this that is incredible. The multiple points of view tell us of life underground for John Warlow, who is barely literate, and a brute of a man violent to his wife Hannah and children. Through Herbert Powyss above ground, we see his motivations, his solitary life ...more
Jess
Jun 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: arcs
A fictionalised account of a real 18th century experiment in personal isolation. While there was minor crude language, on the whole it was an interesting read. Herbert Powyss, a rich scientist, persuades John Warlow, a field labourer, to consent to being isolated in a basement "apartment" filled with all creature comforts except human society and a view to the outside world. Warlow steadily unravels in the darkness and silence beneath the house as Powyss provides his family with money and his wi ...more
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
This book was well written and interesting, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected. There was a little bit of action that seemed out of place and really only there to say, “hey, I did my research.”. But I liked it anyway.
Poppy Gill
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One word : Intense.
Thomas Justman
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So good.

This book demands a closer look at inequality, past and present. Touching, fun, sad, and totally captivating. Read read read!
Sharon
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
In depth ★★★★

The Warlow Experiment is a fascinating exploration of science, class, freedom and psychology, delivered in well-written prose. Readers should note short descriptions of rape and domestic violence, a longer passage describing a fatal battery/strangulation, and a stabbing, which may be triggering.

Inspired by a brief, true account, Nathan's tale is of Herbert Powyss, gentleman and aspiring scientist, and his call for a man to live underground, isolated from all human contact, for seven
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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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