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Confessing a Murder: A Novel Paperback – 20 May 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.; Reprint edition (20 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393324443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324440
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 0.2 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,531,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

How was it that Charles Darwin and another biologist, Alfred Russel Wallace, came up with the same theory simultaneously ? This intelligent, funny and original debut novel answers the question by purporting to be an anonymous memoir by an arrogant but brilliant homosexual whose life regularly crossed with Darwin and is now writing his apologia on a small island where he is the only human inhabitant. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Nicholas Drayson, a writer and naturalist, was formerly a curator at the National Museum in Canberra, Australia. This is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Jun. 2003
Format: Paperback
'Confessing a Murder' starts very slowly and takes a while to get going. However, it is worth the hard slog. By a quarter of the way into the book, the characters start to grow on you (as well as the bizarre creatures that the author describes) and the relationships between the characters and the deserted island become more involved.
It's basically the tale of an old man recounting his youth, the adventures that he had, and above all following his passion - beetle collecting. Although prehaps a weird topic for a book which may turn most people off, it is actually very interesting. An inspiration for all of us to not give up hope and to follow our dreams. Who knows when they may eventually come true.
It's one of those books that you can't explain to anyone without confusing yourself any further. A good book overall, but needs to be read in peace and quiet in order to appreciate the detailed descriptions that the author goes into.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Erastes on 26 April 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm afraid that this is another book that was loudly lauded by all and sundry but leaves me going "and?"

It's an interesting concept: the conceit is that the book is real, even the publisher's note at the beginning goes into depth extrapolating on where and when the manuscript was found, how it was written, and on what--then goes into Darwin's life, and the possibility that this account may or may not be real. There's also an editor's note, bylined by Mr Drayton explaining the way it has been edited. The point, ably made at least, was to show how Alfred Russel Wallace and (more famously) Charles Darwin, came up with two independent and similar Theories of Evolution. The reason of this book being that they both got the idea from the narrator of this manuscript. (who purports to be an illegitimate scion of the Darwin family).

So I picked it up, more than intrigued. Seeing as it combines two of my interests, natural history and gay historical fiction, I felt that surely I was going to love it, but try as I might, I just didn't.

The book is told in two interweaving sections: one describes the island, and with each segment that relates to the place where the narrator (who is never named) is marooned, he goes into detail of the completely unique flora and fauna found there. Vampyric plants which parisitise young birds (but keep them free from worms), swallows that hibernate in mud, minnows that can survive in near boiling water. Drayson is a naturalist and zoologist--has written a book about birds and one about platypuses--so I don't doubt his descriptions of these animals that never were, it's just that it's not terribly interesting.
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By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 20 Oct. 2002
Format: Paperback
With Darwin's publication of the Origin of the Species in 1859, two thousand years of church doctrine--that God created the species on earth in divine acts of separate creation and that Genesis is a literal description of this creation--came into direct conflict with scientific research. Darwin, himself a theologian, was reluctant to reveal his acceptance of evolution, saying that "denial of a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation felt like 'confessing a murder.'"
This erudite and literate novel purports to be a found manuscript from an unknown author writing in 1883 from an island in the Java Sea. Telling of "Bobby" Darwin's early life and background, the speaker reveals his love for Bobby, his fascination with Bobby's explorations on the Beagle, and his influence on Bobby to accept the Theory of Evolution. The speaker, who "cannot remember ever having a God," also claims to have been the source of Alfred Russel Wallace's knowledge of The Theory. His depiction of Wallace as a self-promoting and arrogant trader of beetles and butterflies provides a bit of humor and suggests a rationale for Wallace's rush to promote his view of evolution simultaneously with that of Darwin.
Alternating fast-paced personal narrative and characterization with vibrant descriptions of fascinating, largely imaginary flora and fauna on the Java Sea island (now vanished after a volcanic eruption), the speaker focuses on the interdependence of plant and animal species on each other. The gentle gadzocks eat the salty sargassum weed, misseltow feeds on the blood of noddy chicks, crabs fell trees in order to get to coconuts, and the mystical golden scarab depends on the guano of bats.
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By alison taberner on 11 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
very differnt style than his first book but enjoyable
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Intriguing insights into the origins of the Theory 6 May 2002
By ilmk - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This was an interesting novel. The kind that makes you pause at the last page with a thousand thoughts and questions. From the opening publisher's statement about the authenticity of the diary by the unknown narrator friend of Charles Darwin to the final incidental murder on the island, this book is as equally scientific as it is personal. The narrator's obsession with beetles - more specifically his growing search for the golden scarab - is backed up by a wide-ranging entomological expertise on a range of flora, fauna and organisms on this Galapagos equivalent near Java. From the opening gadzocks, misseltow (mistletoe), rana grantii frogs, sargassum birds, the bouncing Cocumis ciconius, to the shapehifting Chamaelio abitissimus, the narrator intersperses his scientific precision with a lazy narration of his relationships with the Darwin family, his exile from England, his love for Charley and his wealth as an antipodean trader.
Ultimately the narrator is claiming that the Theory of Evolution was a natural progression of his own thought and that his expounding of it to both 'Bobby' and Charley meant the final dual publication by both Darwin and Wallace through an strange twist of events that forces Darwin's publishing hand.
Confessing a murder is narrated in an almost dreamy style, truly as though a diary of reminiscence, with the narrator 'waking up' when entomology is the subject to busily observe and precisely record his findings.
Certainly worth reading
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Darwin's Natural Selection Revisited 30 Jun. 2003
By Michelle P. Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This novel is a delightful piece of revisionist history concerning the formultion of the Theory of Natural Selection. The narrator, an old man marooned on an island in the Java sea when we meet him, claims to have given the main ideas that became the basis of Darwin's famous theory to both Darwin as a young man and, at least indirectly, to Wallace who came to the same idea about the same time. The title is a quote from Darwin who said that expounding the theory of evolution was like "confessing a murder" - a phrase that comes to have multiple meanings.
The narrator is an avid naturalist and comes to be obsessed with finding a golden beetle which takes him on the quest that ends on the island. The island is populated with remarkable plants and animals. They have evolved to have traits that are realistic but just a little "over the top". There is, for example, a mistletoe that is parasitic not on trees but on nestlings that happen to be nearby. The mistletoe saps their blood but far from been detrimental to the birds, the mistletoe confirs increased immunity and parasitized birds survive and grow better than their unparasitized nestmates. This book is filled with examples that will delight anyone who has studied a little animal behavior. Drayson, who was a curator at a Natural History museum in Australia, uses his knowledge artfully and imaginatively. His imaginary species support the hypotheses of behavioral ecology and their physiology are almost - but not quite - realistic.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The Theory of Evolution, "a gift or a curse"? 2 Sept. 2002
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
With Darwin's publication of the Origin of the Species in 1859, two thousand years of church doctrine--that God created the species on earth in divine acts of separate creation and that Genesis is a literal description of this creation--came into direct conflict with scientific research. Darwin, himself a theologian, was reluctant to reveal his acceptance of evolution, saying that "denial of a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation felt like 'confessing a murder.'"

This erudite and literate novel purports to be a found manuscript from an unknown author writing in 1883 from an island in the Java Sea. Telling of "Bobby" Darwin's early life and background, the speaker reveals his love for Bobby, his fascination with Bobby's explorations on the Beagle, and his influence on Bobby to accept the Theory of Evolution. The speaker, who "cannot remember ever having a God," also claims to have been the source of Alfred Russel Wallace's knowledge of The Theory. His depiction of Wallace as a self-promoting and arrogant trader of beetles and butterflies provides a bit of humor and suggests a rationale for Wallace's rush to promote his view of evolution simultaneously with that of Darwin.

Alternating fast-paced personal narrative and characterization with vibrant descriptions of fascinating, largely imaginary flora and fauna on the Java Sea island (now vanished after a volcanic eruption), the speaker focuses on the interdependence of plant and animal species on each other. The gentle gadzocks eat the salty sargassum weed, misseltow feeds on the blood of noddy chicks, crabs fell trees in order to get to coconuts, and the mystical golden scarab depends on the guano of bats. These descriptions of dependence give a thought-provoking slant to the treatment of evolution, provide numerous parallels with the human relationships in the story, and stimulate the reader's imagination about possible vanished species and the need for conservation. This is a novel of huge reach, with a full-circle, religiously suggestive conclusion. Some sections are a bit pedantic, and not all readers will enjoy the alternating focus of intimate personal revelations and descriptions of nature, but the book provides much food for thought, and, perhaps, a new view of Darwin and his achievements. Mary Whipple
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Well done! 6 Aug. 2002
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Nicholas Drayson's debut novel, 'Confessing a Murder.' The title comes from Charles Darwin's remark that the, to him, heretical religious implications of his Theory made him feel a little like he was 'confessing a murder.'
The premise of the book is that it purports to be the newly discovered journal of a (fictional) early Victorian gentleman, intimately associated with Darwin's family, who is exiled to the South Pacific, and after making a fortune in trade in Australia, ultimately finds himself on an island, also fictional, near Java, where he makes discoveries that suggest what later becomes Darwin's Theory of Evolution, much of which he communicates to Darwin by letter. The journal is addressed of 'Bobby', as he has called Darwin since childhood. He is obsessed by beetles and makes observations that are fascinating in their peculiarities--he reports closely observed behavior and characteristics of beetles that bespeak Drayson's familiarity with entomology. Drayson is a former curator of the National Museum in Australia and his invented details of the peculiarities of the flora and fauna of his island, while bizarre, have their own logic and are thus pretty convincing. It's 'Origin of Species' imaginatively admixed with 'Robinson Crusoe'. There's even a murder and plenty of Darwin family intrigue.
For anyone not familiar with the inner working of the Theory, there is a good deal of painless and quite clear explanation of the main points of the Theory.
Plenty of Mystery, No Detective 6 July 2012
By Sara Burroughs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This isn't your standard detective novel - there's no detective - but there are a couple of mysteries and certainly a murder. Who is the narrator? He's never named, though the reader learns to know him well. How does Charley Allen die? And why? Those questions are answered.

And how did the obscure biologist Alfred Russel Wallace come up with the theory of evolution about the same time that Charles Darwin did? That's not a question that has kept many of us up at night, but it is the basis of Nicholas Drayson's first novel. Its characters are both drawn from and grafted on to the early life of Charles Darwin, who plays, as "Bobby," a large part in the narrator's affections and hopes. (Darwin supplied the title; he told a friend that talking about his theory was like "confessing a murder," for he feared that it would kill religious belief.)

The novel has two interweaving parts: first, the narrator's autobiography, and second, the volcanic island where he spends the last months of his life and writes the story. He has no family, only paid caretakers until he is seven. Then he attends boarding school and meets two Darwin brothers. They introduce him to their Wedgwood cousins, and he falls in love with Emma Wedgwood but is refused her hand by her father. Off he goes to Australia to be a doctor, though his real interest (shared with Darwin) is in beetles.

That interest leads him to the volcanic island (apparently near Krakatoa) for which Drayson, a naturalist, creates an assortment of life forms, lovingly described and named by the narrator. (Example: a type of mistletoe that sucks the blood of baby birds.) Driven by his desire to find a golden scarab to present to Darwin, the narrator has followed the slimy Charley Allen to an island whose days are numbered.

In Confessing a Murder Drayson takes his readers into the head of a brilliant, obsessed, bereft and fascinating protagonist, and he makes us believe in fantastic flora and fauna. I look forward to more from this excellent writer.
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