Octavian Something

October 4, 2008 at 5:34 pm Leave a comment

With the second volume of M. T. Anderson’s Octavian books due out this month, it seems an appropriate time to revisit volume one. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Pox Party is one of the most brilliant and unusual books I have read. I throw praise around like criticism, but this time I really mean it. Anderson did something wholly unique with this book, and we should anticipate nothing less with it’s sequel. But let’s  not get carried away with a book we haven’t seen yet. If you haven’t read the first one, allow me to tell you a bit about it.

The novel tells the story of young Octavian, a boy raised with his mother in a house of philosophers and scientists in Boston, Massachusetts in the mid-18th century. Need a history refresher? Yes, that’s about the time of the American Revolution. In the midst of the turmoil of early American activity – tar and feathering, protesting, smashing windows – Octavian’s world is remarkably isolated. He doesn’t question the unusual arrangement of his living situation any more than he questions his precisely measured food portions, his well-documented classical education, or the ritual weighing of his feces. Not at first. But he has not been raised by scientists for nothing, and it does not take long for him to realize that the common habits of his life are eerily out of sync with the world outside.

Initially, this book seems to read as a sort of historical fantasy, a grotesque representation of an era otherwise familiar to the traditionally educated American. As the pages turn, the realization that this is no fantasy at all only serves to make the story seem all the more bizarre and unsettling. But don’t let the word ‘unsettling’ turn you off. You will not regret a single minute between these covers. The characters are precise and compelling. The narrative shoots you along with ever-growing curiosity and concern. You have not read anything like it before. You will not find anything like it again. Unless, of course, it’s the second volume, The Kingdom on the Waves. You have less than two weeks to pick up a copy of volume one before the second hits the store. So get a move on.

Review by Molly Lewis

Buy the books here!


Entry filed under: Teen 12 to 17 and up. Tags: , , , , , .

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