The Darwin Conspiracy?
Browsing in Barnes and Noble yesterday, I came across The Darwin Conspiracy by John Darnton. This is a novel. The plot summary on the jacket reads as follows:
In this riveting new novel, best-selling author John Darnton transports us to Victorian England and around the world to reveal the secrets of a legendary nineteenth-century figure. Darnton elegantly blends the power of fact and and the insights of fiction to explore the many mysteries attached to the life and work of Charles Darwin.
What led Darwin to the theory of evolution? Why did he wait twenty-two years to write On the Origin of Species? Why was he incapacitated by mysterious illnesses and frightened of travel? Who was his secret rival? These are some of the questions driving Darnton's richly dramatic narrative, which unfolds through three vivid points view: Darwin's own as he sails around the world aboard the Beagle; his daughter Lizzie's as she strives to understand the guilt and fear that struck her father at the height of his fame; and that of present-day anthropologist Hugh Kellem and Darwin scholar Beth Dulcimer, whose obsession with Darwin (and with each other) drives them beyond the accepted boundaries of scholarly research. What Hugh and Beth discover - Lizzie's diaries and letters lead them to a hidden chapter of Darwin's autobigoraphy - is a maze of bitter rivalries, petty deceptions, and jealously guarded secrets, at the heart of which lies the birth of the theory of evolution.
With The Darwin Conspiracy, John Darnton again delivers a stunning tapestry of history and imagination, a galvanizing novel.
I bought it, of course. One suspects it has as much connection to reality as the movie Amadeus, but heck, I liked that movie!
Perhaps I was too impulsive. Over at Amazon (linked to above), I find that Publisher's Weekly had this to say:
Darwin's theories have been under attack since he first published The Origin of Species in 1859, but this grandly ambitious novel goes a few steps further to intimate that he was a fraud—and a murderer.
Stilted dialogue, perfunctory romance and expendable subplots make for a rough voyage, but Darnton (Neanderthal) puts real passion into his historical imaginings and recreations: the revelation of the “true” origin of the theory of evolution is particularly inspired and more than enough to sustain another Darntonian bestseller.
Well, that doesn't sound good.
However, I also found this review by Deane Rink. I know nothing about Mr. Rink, but according to the author bio at the start of the article, he has worked for PBS, The American Museum of Natural History, and National Geographic, among other places. I also noticed that he wrote a favorable review of Richard Dawkins' book A Devil's Chaplain. That tends to make me trust him. He writes:
John Darnton has stuck to the facts as they are known, and projected hypothetical answers for the gray areas in this new novel. Readers familiar with Darwin’s life and the furor that The Origin of Species caused will be amused by Darnton’s solutions, unless they take them to be assertions of fact. Readers unfamiliar with this episode in the history of science will learn much about the wars between science and religion that were fought in the 19th Century, and no doubt notice that some of the same battles continue to be fought today.
He concludes with:
This is a painless way to learn some crucial history of science without wading into dry and pedantic tomes. The reader will be surprised at the conjectural outcome, but also quite possibly satisfied. Darnton handles these issues without pandering to the irrationalities of the modern critics of Darwin, most of whom are driven by their immutable faiths. He once again proves that fiction can illuminate fact in ways that fact itself cannot. (Emphasis Added)
Anyone out there know anything about this novel? Did I get suckered into buying creationist propaganda, or did I buy a first-rate piece of historical fiction?