Goodreads synopsis: 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.
I tried hard to get into this book. In fact, I read over 40% of it. But I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. At first I thought it was weird that some people were called by numbers, but as their leader explained, they’re just the background, it doesn’t matter what their names are, and after that explanation, it actually made sense: they are conducting the experiment, their names do not matter, only the subjects matter.
In one part of the book they talk about weighing Octavian’s poop (they measure everything, the weight of what he ate and then the weight of his poop to see how much waste there was). It reminded me of Augusten Burroughs’s Running With Scissors (a book I didn’t enjoy).
Octavian is a gifted violinist. But they way he describes how he plays just didn’t make sense to me:
The second movement, a more lively one as written by Signor Tartini, somewhat a dance, I played like the kicking of a turtle-headed spawn in a woman’s womb.
The language was kind of weird, as if the author was trying too hard to be the language of the time. “Spake” (spoke) and “sate” (sat) were used a lot. There was a lot of description, some of it unnecessary (reminiscent of Moby Dick, though I don’t know how accurate my comparison can be since I’ve only read the first 100 pages of Moby Dick…)
So, all in all, this was a disappointment, but I have two other Kindle books that are available from the library that I’m very excited to read.