Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

[description from goodreads]

It sounds like a fairy tale. He is a boy dressed in silks and white wigs and given the finest of classical educations. Raised by a group of rational philosophers known only by numbers, the boy and his mother — a princess in exile from a faraway land — are the only persons in their household assigned names. As the boy's regal mother, Cassiopeia, entertains the house scholars with her beauty and wit, young Octavian begins to question the purpose behind his guardians' fanatical studies. Only after he dares to open a forbidden door does he learn the hideous nature of their experiments — and his own chilling role in them. Set against the disquiet of Revolutionary Boston, M. T. Anderson's extraordinary novel takes place at a time when American Patriots rioted and 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 the past as an eerie place that has startling resonance for readers today.


This book has received dozens of awards and accolades, and that's probably why it was sitting in my to-be-read pile for so long. Award winners typically don't impress me as much they do the award committees, so I'm always a bit hesitant to pick them up. However, this is one award winner that more than impressed me. I'm sure there are loads of people who hate it, but man oh man it was good. 

The most stunning aspect of this novel is by far the writing. It's written in a not exactly archaic manner, but definitely a style to match the eighteenth century time period in which it is set. The vocabulary is immense, the sentences difficult, and it takes a while to read just to be able to understand what's going on, and even then there were no doubt things that I missed. However, taking the time to appreciate it is so worth it. Not only are there some fantastic passages and quotations that can be pulled, but the writing as a whole is just so smart, so perfect, so beautiful that I loved every minute of it. I already want to go back and reread it just to notice all the things I missed the first time around.

There are definitely times when it's difficult to recognize the story beneath the language, though. Although Octavian quickly finds out his true role in the experiments, it takes a while for the novel to go beyond just the life at the home in which Octavian lives. The experiments are fascinating, twisted, and unique to read about, but I do wish something bigger happened earlier on. However, that complaint was responded to eventually, for the middle of the story takes an unexpected but exciting turn. There are nothing but twists until the end, and because it takes a while to read what's going on because of the writing, I appreciated the turn of events all the more.

I'm sure The Pox Party will bore people or go right over people's heads, but I found it to be an absolutely stunning work. I need the sequel, like, yesterday.

Book details: Candlewick Press/Paperback/$10.99

Source: bought

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