SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
This the latest novel of Robin Hawdon. Different in nature from the very popular plays performed frequently and internationally, this novel tackles a serious question. The concept of Survival of the Fittest is immediately seductive: the idea that a central thesis about our universe exists, but the document has yet to be found and published. All the more compelling if only a select, secret few hold a copy.
Of all theorists, Charles Darwin has shaken our world the most. Suppose he had formed a logical conclusion, based on his lifetime’s research, about the origin of Man and hidden it for posterity? He would have wanted to protect his family, even after his death, from the furore which would follow: strong scientific argument, evidence based, versus centuries of religious belief. Writing it, Darwin would have guessed that a future time might find it easier to consider. Until then, such an addendum had to be hidden. Suppose his wife, Emma, was the only person to know where the writing was hidden? Suppose she herself secretly wrote about Darwin’s beliefs?
This novel has two scenarios intertwined. The deep-thinking, conscientious wife of Charles Darwin confides her anxieties to a secret diary that she does not wish the world to see. Therefore it is hidden by the following generations so well that its existence is only whispered about by the few whose life revolves around priceless antique books.
One of these is antiquarian book-seller, Maurice, a widower whose daily round is made manageable with the bottle of scotch he always carries with him. Unexpectedly, Maurice is contacted by a rich American dealer who sets Maurice off on a quest to find Emma Darwin’s secret diary, and more significantly still, the last section of Charles’ Darwin’s treatise. The two men discuss the financial worth of an addendum which reveals Darwin’s logical conclusion about the existence of God.
Too contentious to publish in his lifetime, and a source of great anxiety to his wife, who feared his chance of Heaven would be compromised by his beliefs, Emma felt she could only confide the existence of these in her secret diary. In life, there was no-one she could trust with such ideas.
The plot consists of Maurice’s adventures in tracking down any scent of either volume. This involves him with various members of the extended Darwin family, both exalted and the reverse. He suffers refusals, embarrassments, upset and downright danger in the process. Ultimately, he faces more than one ethical dilemma before a satisfying conclusion is reached, at least for the reader.
There is a third strain to the novel, when Maurice comes across the writings of another outstanding scientist, Klaus Fuchs, who recorded his beliefs, actions and philosophy during a period of forced inactivity. Fuch’s communism was as dear to him as religion was to Emma. Fuch’s rationale for his actions related to the atomic bomb forms an interesting parallel to Darwin’s ultimate theory. It also raises the question of ownership of discoveries.
I liked the structure of the novel, alternating between the nineteenth and the twenty-first century. This made for an easy read, allowing a switch from the thoughts of Emma to the increase of tension while Maurice makes his forays into detective work. Both main characters are appealing in their own way, inviting affection. Their niceness is well offset by some less wholesome minor characters.
The voice of Emma is convincing – her sad losses but strength of purpose, upheld by the fervent religious beliefs so important to her. A sweet-natured, loving woman emerges from the diary, one whose main grief is the one difference between herself and her husband, the central tenet of his life’s work.
Maurice is also a character who comes alive on the page. He is modest and unassuming, never expecting to be liked or respected nearly as much as he is. We all have a dark side, and Maurice is no exception. What is revealed of this side is both shocking and understandable, so that the reader forgives him and remains identified with him and his search. This proves to be a search of a professional and personal nature.
Underlying the plot is the theme of discoverability and responsibility. How long does an individual hold the right of private communication? What are the rights of ownership? And how far should the concept of God Moving in Mysterious Ways be upheld? For Emma, and the Victorian world, the Addendum was far too dangerous. For Fuchs, by comparison, restricted ownership of new technology presents too great a threat. His beliefs strongly resonate with current concerns.
The imagined Charles Darwin’s own words form a satisfying end to the novel.
The novel is available in paperback from Amazon
- Publisher: Strategic Book Publishing (7 Jun 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1625166176
- ISBN-13: 978-1625166173 or on Kindle.