The Origin

The Origin : Biographical Novel of Charles Darwin

4.08 (1,538 ratings by Goodreads)
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Product details

  • Paperback | 816 pages
  • 120 x 180mm
  • Random House Children's Publishers UK
  • Corgi Childrens
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 1map
  • 0552119202
  • 9780552119207

Review Text

If this hard-working but epically dull "biographical novel" hadn't come equipped with a famous byline, would it have been published at all - let alone with bookclub hoopla? Stone at his best (whatever his limitations) has found some emotional focus for the heroes of his fictional biographies; but here - perhaps because there's been no major Darwin bio recently - he adopts the unselective, year-by-year approach of an academic, yet without the intellectual force or depth expected from a serious biographer. The result is the worst of both worlds: the stultifying detail of academia mixed with the awkward, saccharine mock-ups of bio-fiction at its stuffiest. Stone begins with Charles just out of school - waiting to begin his career as a cleric, his heart belonging, however, to beetle-collecting. Then comes the offer to be the naturalist on a world voyage: Charles feels "faint with astonishment and shock" (throughout, he shakes and quivers like a Barbara Cartland ingenue) but manages to win his dear father's blessing for the trip, with help from Uncle Josiah Wedgewood. So off he goes aboard the Beagle ("Is this the dreadful sea I am going to spend years of my life enduring? However shall I withstand it?") - to Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, the Galapagos: he collects specimens; he explores the interior; he frets over his clerical future; he gets mail from home ("He consumed the letter in one misty gulp"); he observes provocative geology ("Never would I have thought that I could love rocks and mountains and plains and ravines more than my beetles!"). And back in England four years later, Charles finds his reports have won him a serious reputation ("The tremor of an earthquake went through his long, lean body"); so he can now commit himself to a life of scientific writing. Natural selection and origin-of-the-species start taking shape in his mind ("he felt he was on to something. . . important") - despite opposition, psychosomatic illnesses, and worries over wife Emma's ruffled religious feelings. There may indeed be a drama in Darwin's creativity and conflicts, but here it's buried in turgid verbiage - chunks of un-evocative science, lists of expenses, descriptions of meals; and Stone's Darwin is a droning goody-goody whose spark of genius is never illuminated. Bland biography, hopeless fiction: this time the Stone hybrid is stone indeed - an immense, well-researched fossil sure to disappoint its built-in audience. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

1,538 ratings
4.08 out of 5 stars
5 37% (565)
4 39% (607)
3 20% (311)
2 3% (41)
1 1% (14)
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