Top critical review
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Exhaustive and exhausting
on September 23, 2003
I've never read a book quite like Desmond's. He is an extremely talented writer and is obviously enthusiastic about Huxley, his "X club" cohorts, and Victorian England in general. Some of his prose is worth savoring, in fact. However, as other reviewers have mentioned, his talent and enthusiasm primarily result in a 650 page-long monograph of purple prose. It is difficult to find a single sentence on some pages that doesn't contain a simile (usually of an overwrought nature) or highly charged authorial proclamation. Although this practice certainly makes the writing lively, it also makes it extremely heavy-going and, at times, quite confusing. It is difficult to read more than a few pages at a time.
As for the book's material, it is never less than fascinating. Desmond is a thorough researcher, and he never fails to explore the major events in Huxley's life in proper detail. He is also enormously well-schooled in the world of Victorian science, university politics, and culture. Although he makes even the slightest struggle in Huxley's life seem like a battle for all time, he also succeeds in making "Hal" a truly sympathetic and utterly unparalleled individual. I had no problem with the straight narrative structure as other reviewers seem to have had, but many, many names popped in and out of the story with little information to refresh my memory and this grew tiresome.
In short, I recommend giving this book a shot. You may tolerate or even enjoy Desmond's prose. There is a lot of wonderful information about a wonderful and remarkable man to be imbibed. However, be warned that it will most likely be a murky, if hot and spicy, pool to wade through.