Friday, July 24, 2015

Under the Harrow

by Mark Dunn
550 pgs

Dingley Dell is a town located somewhere in the backcountry of Pennsylvania. It's a small town, and for over a century it has been isolated from the rest of the world in almost every way possible: physically, socially, linguistically, and technologically. For generations its citizens have believed that their isolation is a necessary precaution against an infectious disease that has run rampant throughout the rest of the world since the 19th century.

Unbeknownst to its residents, Dingley Dell is a sociological and anthropological experiment that began back in the 1800s when a group of orphans was abandoned by their guardians with only a King James Bible, the Encyclopedia Britannica (9th edition), a world atlas, and the complete works of Charles Dickens. Their former guardians wanted to see how this small society would evolve over generations of time.

What did evolve was a society steeped in Victorian culture, including its dress, language, and beliefs. They live a simplistic life, ignorant of the technologies and conveniences the rest of the world possesses.

But every once in awhile a curious Dinglian will venture beyond the borders of the self-contained valley. Some of them are never heard from again. But every once in awhile, one will return and speak almost incomprehensibly of the things they witnessed in the "Outland." Those who return are quickly rounded up and quarantined in Bedlam, the medical institution for the mentally ill.

A few Dinglians discover the truth behind their society and also learn that their time is coming to an end. The billionaire descendants of those who began the experiment no longer have an interest in its continuance, and are ready to eliminate any evidence that it ever existed.

Every one of Mark Dunn's books has been immensely fun to read. This one is no exception. He obviously has a love for the works of Dickens, and writes the majority of this book in that same style. The book is fun, thought-provoking, suspenseful, and builds to an exciting conclusion.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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