The Evolution of Inanimate Objects tells the curious case of Charles Darwin’s youngest son Thomas and his eventual involuntary commitment to a London, Ontario asylum. A precocious child, Thomas was keenly interested in the work of his father, applying evolutionary theory to a decidedly unique subject area: kitchen utensils. But the interest soon turned to obsession, as the boy became convinced that evolution is best understood from the perspective of forks and knives.
While author Harry Karlinsky emphatically declares the novel to be a work of fiction, it certainly doesn’t present itself as such. It comes off as an intentional academic biography compiled with “facts” from both real and fictitious sources, all carefully annotated and scientifically informed. A very conventional brand of psychosis is on display here, one that comes from its paratextual framework that creates the illusion of a truthful account. But this setup allows for play, imagination and interpretation – something which Karlinsky skillfully explores.
Casual readers might find themselves turned off by Karlinsky’s style: a droning recitation of facts and events meant to illuminate the life of his little-known protagonist. But careful reading shows this style to be purposeful and meaningful. It lulls the reader into a sense of security before jarring him back into critical consideration. And the narrative ultimately succeeds through this failure of voice. By blurring the line between fact and fiction, the reader is forced to draw his own conclusions. Fans of scientific literature will be instantly attracted to The Evolution of Inanimate Objects. Everyone else, provided they give the book a fair chance, can appreciate its brilliant conception and well thought out execution. (Alex Gurnham)
Harry Karlinsky, 231 pgs, Insomniac Press, insomniacpress.com, $19.95