An 18th century English gentleman, Herbert Powyss, offers a salary of 50 pounds per year—for life—to any subject willing to undergo a strange experiment: living seven years without human contact in the basement of a manor house fitted out with rugs, books, paintings, and even a chamber organ. Only one man is desperate to apply for the job: John Warlow, a semi-literate laborer with a wife and six children.
It’s an evocative and atmospheric work of historical fiction featuring strong Gothic undercurrents and a relentless bleakness; a dark book packed with shadows both literal and figurative. The pull of the narrative is steady and strong, inviting readers into a world that will haunt their imaginations long after the final page is turned ... Nathan has imagined a vivid and unsettling place, one where the wealthy can indulge their whims without accountability and the poverty-stricken are willing to sacrifice everything for the perceived comfort money can bring. It is a tale of the power of isolation, the necessity of physical and emotional contact to the well-being of the social animal that is man ... The Warlow Experiment is captivating, capturing the spine and spirit of a particular place and time. It is rife with an aesthetic and attitudinal murkiness that wholly engulfs, pulling us into the deepest parts of the many shadows cast.
Preventing things from seeming over-schematic, rich period detail and grippingly peopled subplots about the era’s radical insurgency and reactionary repression add engrossing depth to this compelling tale of a ruinously backfiring experiment.
...a powerful, imaginative novel ... Nathan's novel has something of the fable about it, and its unadorned prose aids the narrative drive so essential to this form ... It is Nathan's scrupulous objectivity that enables the complexity of her characters to emerge ... For all the grim logic of its horrifying finale, what distinguishes The Warlow Experiment above all is how Nathan—unlike Powyss—treats her subject with unfailing dignity and compassion.