Sunday, October 05, 2008

Book Review: "The Philosopher's Apprentice"

After reading a few less than positive reviews of James Morrow's The Philosopher's Apprentice (William Morrow, 2008) I was a little leery of reading it; I really enjoyed Morrow's previous book (The Last Witchfinder) and didn't want my opinion of him to change. It's true that The Philosopher's Apprentice doesn't rise to the same level as Witchfinder, but I found it a good read just the same. The satire is a bit more rock-to-the-skull obvious this time around, and the plot gets a little bit absurd as the book progresses, but the issues are relevant and, dare I say, timely.

In the opening pages, Mason Ambrose, a would-be philosophy Ph.D. who finds his academic ambitions suddenly consumed in an entirely-self-inflicted conflagration, is offered a job he can't refuse: well-paid tutor to the only child of a reclusive geneticist living on a remote island in the Florida Keys. But, of course, Isla de Sangre isn't what it seems. There's some creepy stuff going on down there, and Mason soon finds out he's not the only tutor on the island, nor is his student the only child. Things just get creepier from there, as Ambrose works to give his strangely-begotten pupil a moral foundation and to discover just what the heck is going on around him.

Steeped in (perhaps even bloated with) philosophical and literary references (at least some of which whooshed over my head like one of Isla de Sangre's flying iguanas), Morrow's book tackles many questions of contemporary ethics, from the origins of life to the whole means justifying ends dilemma. As I said, Morrow doesn't go in for thin veils, so if you're looking for subtle, look elsewhere. But for a fairly amusing and incredibly disturbing book, it suffices.

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