The Warlow Experiment by Alix Nathan

1. First lines. 2. Published 2019 Penguin Random House. Allen and Unwin Serpent’s Tail 3. Manor House by Stephen Richards [Licence CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia 4. Detail from cover.
What could go wrong? Well, as you would expect, just about everything.

Herbert Powyss, a country gentleman living in 1793 England, decides to conduct an experiment with the aim of presenting a report to the Royal Society to gain recognition. In answer to his advertisement, John Warlow accepts the conditions. John, a farm labourer with a wife and six children, agrees to be isolated for seven years in rooms in the basement of the country house with no human contact. In return, John will be paid fifty pounds per annum, for life.

“What to do? What to do first. How to begin it. What to do? Just have to live, Powyss said. Live. That means eat. Sleep. Not cut his hair. Wind clock. What else him want me to do? Write journal, but he’ll not do that yet. And the reward! Hannah, childer ‘taken care of’. Shan’t trouble about them. Then soon as he’s out, fifty pound for the rest of his life. Fifty pound every year. Very good!

“No one is punished forever, sir!”

~Quotes from ‘The Warlow Experiment” by Alix Nathan
  • Guardian: “… the book plods, its plot fatally underpowered. It takes too long for the effects of Warlow’s incarceration to gain momentum and, when at last the household cracks under its pressure, the events feel forced and improbable. More frustratingly, though the extra pages provide more detailed encounters with the two protagonists, these do little to deepen our understanding of either man.”
  • New York Times: “a unique and chilling novel”

Other editions.

Author: Alix Nathan

Historical note: An article in a 1797 journal caught the attention of the author, Alix Nathan. English gentleman, Mr Powyss of the village of Moreham, had offered a reward of fifty pounds a year for life to undertake an experiment, which was to live for seven years in the basement of his country house without human contact. Comfortable rooms, and all conveniences would be provided. No further information about this incident has come to light, so it is not confirmed that the experiment actually took place.

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