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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There is darkness at the heart of this novel
Set primarily in the last inhabited river station up a tributary of the mighty Amazon, The Devil's Garden conjures up strong visions and parallels. You immediately think of other `jungle' novels - Heart of Darkness being the obvious one of course, and indeed they do share some heavy themes. This novel is billed as a literary thriller, which I suppose it is, but very much...
Published on 6 Jun 2012 by Annabel Gaskell

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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fails to Live up to Its Promise
The premise of 'The Devil's Garden' is promising. Scientist Dr Forle is deep in the South American rainforest to study a strange phenomenon: ants that work collaboratively to destroy all but one species of plant, creating areas known as Devil's Gardens; behaviour that challenges widely accepted evolutionary theory. When a supply boat containing two menacing individuals...
Published on 27 April 2011 by HeavyMetalMonty


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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fails to Live up to Its Promise, 27 April 2011
By 
HeavyMetalMonty (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
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The premise of 'The Devil's Garden' is promising. Scientist Dr Forle is deep in the South American rainforest to study a strange phenomenon: ants that work collaboratively to destroy all but one species of plant, creating areas known as Devil's Gardens; behaviour that challenges widely accepted evolutionary theory. When a supply boat containing two menacing individuals - who identify themselves as the Judge and the Colonel - arrives at Forle's research station, his life takes a very different direction. Edward Docx lived in the rainforest while researching this book, and it shows in his sumptuous descriptions of the forest's aesthetics, sounds, colours, smells and myriad lifeforms. Docx's powerful descriptive writing sets the scene in impressive detail, but it can't redeem a chaotically flung-together plot, dull dialogue and a main character who is unremarkable and humourless. While the novel is immaculately researched, its unflinchingly formal prose imbues the book with the feel of an old-fashioned tome rather than a modern tale in which references to satellite phones and e-mail are commonplace.

The most interesting parts of the novel are the scientific journal entries detailing Dr Forle's observations of ant behaviour and the epiphanies he has experienced as a result. This screams two things to the reader: the journal entries are beautifully written; the rest of the story is somewhat dull. Imagine watching an episode of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' in which the 'Captain's Log' excerpt was the most exciting part of the show. 'The Devil's Garden' is the literary equivalent of that experience.

Docx describes the rainforest with precision and lushness, but fails to do the same with his novel's characters. This gives the reader the impression that Docx resonates with the rainforest but not with the characters he has created: admirable in an environmentalist, but a shot in the foot for a novelist.

'The Devil's Garden' is not a tightly plotted story, but a tale peppered with story arcs that are decorative rather than functional. The book would benefit from strict editing and removal of all the literary window dressing that isn't vital to the plot. While the story has some originality and excellent descriptive flourishes, I couldn't shake the feeling that the tale was moving forward uncertain of its own destination and equally oblivious to what (if any) point it was trying to make.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Ants Were The Best Part, 10 Mar 2011
By 
Brett H "pentangle" (Brighton) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
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The main setting for the Devil's Garden is a scientific station in the Amazonian rain forest where the work is to investigate Devil's Gardens. There is no mystery as to the origin of these as is rather misleadingly suggested in Amazon's description of this book. They are areas inhabited by a particular species of ant and the bushes in which they live. Other vegetation in these areas has disappeared and the natives call them Devil's Gardens. All this is stated in the first few pages.

A colonel and a judge arrive at the station, apparently there to register the local Indians to vote. However, when one of the local Indians is tortured and there are various allusions to ethnic cleansing it appears there may be more to this than meets the eye..........

All this sounds like a promising scenario. However, for the first half of the book the plot progresses at an extremely pedestrian pace and the main interest is in the detailed description of the surroundings. Things pick up a bit in the second half but the story is still not developed significantly. The pace can never be called frenetic except at one stage, when the Chief Scientist, Forle, is kidnapped. For a few short pages the book becomes a page turner. Unhappily this does not last, though it does go to show that Docx can write in an attention grabbing manner if he has a mind to. The climax is rather violent, somewhat unlikely and not particularly satisfactory.

Every so often there is an italicised page or so of scientific notes on a particular aspect of the rain forest. Although a neat idea this does not really add much except that it is often more interesting than the surrounding narrative. I did, however, learn quite a lot about ants! The book is written in the first person, which initially comes across as rather disjointed, though you do get used to it.

So to summarise, a good idea and clearly a lot of research has gone into this book. Unfortunately the execution was not great and would have benefited from a lot more thought on plot development. Rather short, but sadly, in the context of this book that could probably be regarded as a positive.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There is darkness at the heart of this novel, 6 Jun 2012
By 
Annabel Gaskell "gaskella2" (Nr Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
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Set primarily in the last inhabited river station up a tributary of the mighty Amazon, The Devil's Garden conjures up strong visions and parallels. You immediately think of other `jungle' novels - Heart of Darkness being the obvious one of course, and indeed they do share some heavy themes. This novel is billed as a literary thriller, which I suppose it is, but very much in slow-burn Graham Greene mould - I'm thinking The Quiet American meets A Burnt Out Case here ... but first let me tell you a little about the book.

Dr Forle and his assistant Kim, aided by German guide Lothar, work in the jungle carrying on the work of Forle's partner studying a particular species of ant; ones that create Devil's Gardens - poisoning all the plants around their nest except their favoured home making strange glades in the forest - like man of course! One day, the peaceful existence of the station residents is disturbed by the arrival of the Judge and a Colonel and soon a band of soldiers. Officially there to register the jungle tribes to vote, their presence upsets everything, and after Forle witnesses a boy being tortured one night, it is clear that life can't go on as normal, although Forle tries to assert his authority. You just know that it's going to go wrong ...

For the non-indigenous folk, (except perhaps Lothar who seems to know his way around in the jungle), life revolves around the river. The settlement itself only goes skin deep. Everything arrives and departs via the river and the path between the communal building, the comedor, and the jetty is the only highway.

Forle is rather nave, like Conrad's view of those Europeans that haven't gone native, he seems to believe that by letting the Colonel and Judge know that he knows what's going on, (although of course he only knows the tip of the iceberg), that perpetrators will be dealt with and life can go on. And go on it does, but only sort of. He doesn't realise the ulterior motives behind the soldier's actions and those of the judge, and the danger that they are all in and this leads up to an all-action thrilling climax.

Told by Forle who, being a scientist, is a trained observer, life in the station contrasts with extracts from his journals about the ants. The ebb and flow of life on, and in, the river also contrasts vividly with the menace within the jungle. This certainly sets the scene, together with a growing suspicion that something bad will happen - there are hints of spies and double-crossing. It really takes its time to get there though. This is where it felt very Graham Greene-ish to me, and I rather enjoyed this aspect.

What I also liked is that life at the station hasn't changed much from other earlier jungle novels. Yes, they have a computer in a laboratory, but that all had to be shipped in boatload by boatload, and they only have the oil to charge the batteries for a few hours use each night. Everything else is done the traditional way, and initially, Forle's biggest worry is that the Judge will drink them dry before new supplies arrive.

I didn't mind the slow-burn at all, I revelled in the foetid darkness at the heart (!) of this novel. I also hoped that Forle would find himself as, at the start of the novel, like a Graham Greene lead character, he was in danger of burning out too soon. Docx can really write, and I will look forward to reading his previous Booker long-listed novel Self Help. The two stars of The Devil's Garden are really the river and the jungle, and they drive the book at their own pace making fascinating reading companions.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a trip to the jungle, 4 Oct 2011
This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
Having visited this part of the world a few years ago, reading Docx's novel was just like taking a trip back.

The exciting intrigue kept me on my toes throughout and the descriptions of smells, characters and atmosphere were so vivid it took me a while to get back down to earth once I'd put the book down.

A great read - just beware of being trapped in the Devil's Garden's...
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book of two parts, only one of them good., 22 April 2011
By 
B. D. Breen (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
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'The Devil's Garden' is a wonderfully written book that whisks the reader off to a tropical land of remote tribes and corrupt militaries. Edward Docx describes the place near perfectly, sculpting an image in the reader's mind and yet not dwelling on objects long enough to induce boredom. There are some truly beautiful descriptions, particularly in the opening chapters, of what is a fascinating landscape. This ability, however, is not fully transfered to the characters, meaning that many could have been explored much further - from the confrontational judge to the psycopathic military captain, the reader is left wishing for more details throughout.

'The Devil's Garden' can be split into two sections: the first eight chapters and the remaining two. It seems that for the bulk of the book, not a lot happens. After the second chapter, there really is no development of the main plot, instead the author opts for much blander distractions. Whilst I agree there is a need for diversions from the main story arc, there is astonishingly little development of any real plot up until the ninth chapter. And then, all of a sudden, the action explodes, the plot lurches forward at a great pace - too fast, in fact, and many points that could have been further explored are glossed over as a result.

Fundamentally, Edward Docx has succeeded in describing an environment perfectly, but this book has too many problems to overlook. Pacing and character development both leave a fair bit to be desired. Aside from this, what are ostensibly extracts from a research paper for a scientific journal read more like the diary entries of a first-year student, utterly destroying any immersion in the world. That said, this is a completely readable book, and a fairly enjoyable diversion; however, one cannot help but think that this is a good book that could have been far greater, and that is a true shame.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars average, 2 Jun 2012
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This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
This is one of my few forays into general fiction and I left feeling underwhelmed. The Devil's Garden was billed as an action packed book of The Heart of Darkness mould, but lacked that book's intensity. The location was good but I think it was touched on a little too lightly, and I think the politics could have been used a bit more - here it was mainly off scene. Also I didn't get the connection with the ants, were they a metaphor for something, if they were then they were also underused. All in all the book touches on things but offers very little.--
this book is readable but unspectacular.
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Blah Blah Blah, 22 Jun 2011
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
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I loved Edward Docx's Self Help - Booker longlisted, well plotted, intriguingly told, complex characters. It should have done better.

The Devil's Garden, on the other hand, is just very boring. It started well - 40 pages of competent scene setting. Dr Forle in the jungle research station, visited by a judge and a colonel, followed by an army of soldiers. A torturing in the night. The location is not given - but perhaps Colombia given the cocaine and Spanish names. All the hallmarks of a tense and steamy plot.

Unfortunately, it descended into a series of chase scenes as everybody seemed to be plotting against everyone else. All overlaid with pseudo-philosophical human observations set against a very heavy handed ant metaphor.

The worst indictment of a novel is that you read the words without taking in any meaning. Half an hour of self-hypnosis, thirty more pages in your left hand and no idea what has happened, who is in the scene, why they are there... Occasionally a short passage would arrest the interest, but by and large the whole novel was an exercise in drifting. The characters, in any case, seemed hard to distinguish and I confess that at one point early on I had the misapprehension that Dr Forle was female. There was no obvious development which left the last, very personal line totally bewildering. Why would we care?

Truly, don't waste your time on this novel. Had I not felt obligated to finish a review copy this would have lingered unfinished. Even withonly five pages to go, stood in a busstop in the cold, dark rain I wondered whether I wouldn't be better off chucking the book and putting on some Harry Chapin on my I Pod instead.
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Must to Avoid, 23 Mar 2011
By 
Chafford (Romford, Essex) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
I rarely feel moved to write reviews, but have been prompted to do so here having read some of these Five Star Rave reviews of this book. I really wonder if these reviewers had been reading the same volume as I endured. Far from being a pacey plot, the story moved along with all the velocity of an arthritic snail. Now that's fine, some of my favorite books are slow but beautifully descriptive. This was not, however, the case here and in the main the narrative was just not very interesting. The characters and the plot are not developed in any meaningful way and although this is not a long book, it was a real struggle to complete.

I would agree that there were some interesting insights into the behavior of ants, but frankly, if I wanted to learn about ants I would have bought a text book and been spared the turgid narrative. So, 'masterpiece', 'stunning literary writing', ' a parable for our time' - the author may feel that but I doubt many of his readers will share his view.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Instant disconnect, 13 July 2011
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This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
We join Dr Forle and his colleagues at a remote research station tucked away in the virgin tropical jungle. Following a bereavement, he throws himself in to the study of ants and the 'Devil's Gardens' they create, hoping to unlock secrets which will challenge the very principle of human existence, the theory of evolution. However, the life of Dr Forle and his crew is turned upside down when the sinister Colonel and the eccentric Judge take up residence at their station, using the cover story of registering the indigenous population for the vote. He soon finds himself drawn into the murky criminal underworld where it is never clear where government policy ends and organised crime begins.

One of the main obstacles getting in the way of me enjoying this book is Dr Forle - He is a one-dimensional and colourless character who inspires no loyalty or empathy in the reader at all. He even comes across as a coward at times, hiding in the shadows when bullies pick on weaker individuals. Where he could seem mysterious and haunted he comes across as introspective and gloomy, making me tire quickly of his narrative voice.

In fact, all the characters suffer from the same lack of personality, making it hard to tell them apart and even harder to care what happens to them. To make matters worse, most of the dialogue is clunky, contrived and unnatural. I get the impression that Docx uses dialogue between the characters to air his anthropological musings, but people simply don't talk like that. All he succeeded in producing was constant artificial and synthetic dialogue which made me disconnect at once.

I also found the plot messy and strange - Who the Colonel and the Judge work for and what they are trying to achieve is never really cleared up, which made the whole thing seem rather pointless. I still don't know if the conflict was created by organised crime from cocaine barons, a corrupt government trying to clear away local tribes so they can move loggers in, or if it has something to do with oil or if it's simply just the tribes fighting amongst themselves. Either way, we are treated to some graphic scenes of grotesque violence which seem gratuitous and unnecessary.

Despite all of this, the one thing I loved was the jungle. Without a doubt the jungle is the main character - a huge, hot, living, breathing thing constantly humming in the background. Every paragraph dedicated to the jungle is intensely atmospheric, it practically buzzes and simmers with strength and ruthlessness. And it is filled to the brim with insects which I could practically feel creeping on my skin.

What an amazing book this would have been if Docx had applied the same talent throughout! But unfortunately he has not, and the result is boring and disappointing.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Of Ants and Men, 27 May 2011
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Garden (Paperback)
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Set a book in the Amazonian jungle and the nature of the place can't help but seep into the characterisation. It's evidently used intentionally to this effect in The Devil's Garden, which, as the title suggests (opposing the more conventional Garden of Eden imagery), is the location where fundamental questions about human nature are going to be examined and played out.

The novel's deeper questions about how humans behave in a natural environment, without the trappings of civilisation, cutting even beneath layers of religion and superstition that get in the way, is borne out further in the etymological studies of Dr Forle, a scientist who is working there with his team, examining the behaviour and the influence of ants on their environment and the ecosystem. His research however is upset by the arrival of government and army officials who are attempting to register the native population (some of them undiscovered tribes) for initially unknown purposes, but undoubtedly for their own personal interests.

Underlying the book then, the ants and their colony is a fine metaphor for the examination of group actions and individual behaviour in a social context, for comparing and contrasting questions of purpose - whether for commercial, social, religious purposes or just self-interest - and whether those aims are progressive towards a higher, more altruistic purpose or whether they just reflect life as constant change.

That much is made clear early on through some scientific journal entries and in how it applies the struggle that develops between the Amazonian natives and the officials, the events watched with mounting horror by the research team, but Edward Docx doesn't really manage to do full justice to this idea. As a social experiment, the conclusions are, well, inconclusive. As you might expect, self-preservation becomes paramount as events reach critical proportions at an improbable pace, and as such it becomes hard to sympathise with any of the characters. The ideas and the writing then give way to a rolling series of events that have little sense of purpose until it just ends, leaving the reader wondering just what was the point of it all.
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The Devil's Garden
The Devil's Garden by Edward Docx (Paperback - 1 April 2011)
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