In the village of Downe, a gardener is mourning the loss of his wife. It just so happens he is Charles Darwin’s gardener. Avoiding the prying minds of the rest of the village and turning his back on religion, he is considered a loner. He has questions; if he doesn’t believe in God then what should he put his faith in?

Crime makes men stick together, like mortar, only better.

I’ve been struggling with how to word my feelings for this little book. You could open it up at any point and read something, thought-provoking, beautiful or amusing in itself. Peirene Press pride themselves on “literary cinema”; books to be devoured in the time it takes to watch a film. Yet here, the lack of a structured plot makes it a book that doesn’t suit one sitting. I generally like plots in novels, and I think if this were any longer I may have grown tired of it, but as a novella it works so well.

“Animals have nothing extra in their skulls that makes them stop in the middle of running or flying or crawling. Man is the only animal to wonder where he is going and why. He comes up against a wall and starts asking questions. I think a more cool-headed species like rats will take over.”

It’s hard to keep track of the narrator, so my advice would be not to try. It becomes a much more enjoyable read when you let go! The narration passes between the villagers and it becomes this wonderful portrait of a village in a moment of time. It’s just like sitting in the local pub and listening to different conversations, only these are the villager’s inner thoughts. Charles Darwin’s presence means that their thoughts veer towards those of religion and science. But some of them are still preoccupied by more everyday things as well as the need for gossip.

Some women are unable to reconcile big eyes, a straight nose and full lips with a brain housed in the same head; something is superfluous. The brain. They shrink it so it is small enough for the head to accommodate thick curls and a lace bonnet.

Originally written in Finnish by Kristina Carlson, Mr Darwin’s Gardener has been translated into English by Emily and Fleur Jeremiah. This is the second novella in Peirene’s Turning Point: Revolutionary Moments series; you can also read my review of The Mussel Feast. It’s available to buy now in paperback or you can take out a subscription direct. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.