Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review #4: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

I just finished this book a few minutes ago, and needed to formulate my thoughts right away. I'm still not sure what to think of this novel. I think I like it, but I definitely need to read it again to fully grasp its complexity and truly appreciate it.

This is the first book in a trilogy by M.T. Anderson. I hadn't heard of it until my mother gave me a copy for my birthday, based on its excellent reviews as well as the fact that the author is from Stow, MA, the town next to mine. It's the story of Octavian, a young black boy who was raised by the Novanglian College of Lucidity, a group of scientists and philosophers. His life is centered around both their experiments, the nature of which are revealed a quarter of the way through the novel, and his education. The story is set in Revolutionary-era Massachusetts, just before the outbreak of the war. The story really focuses on Octavian's discovery of his purpose at the College, and his subsequent search for identity and changing societal roles.

Again, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. It's classified as a YA novel but I thought that it was very complex and even challenging to read at times. The whole story is told in a fairly authentic 18th century language, which can be distracting. I also had a hard time identifying with the main character--he seemed very distant and that made it hard to relate to him.

I loved Anderson's style, though. He plays with form and language in such unique and interesting ways, which really appealed to me as a writer. I also really enjoyed the moments of horror and humor he throws in at unexpected moments (the titular "pox party" is an example of both). He also deals with some really interesting and thought-provoking themes about humanity, freedom and thought. These positive aspects are what are convincing me to read the book again, because I think it really does have a lot to offer that I missed the first time.

Overall, I would recommend it. But make sure you have the time and the patience to really spend time with it, because it's surprisingly intricate.

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