The Theory of Evolution was the greatest scientific concept of its age. It was so revolutionary that its author, Charles Darwin, revealed to a friend in 1854 that even mentioning it felt like 'confessing a murder'. Both the man and his theory are still the subject of intrigue and debate.
How was it that the unremarkable younger son of a rich plutocrat, who idled through school, dropped out of medical studies and looked destined to be a clergyman of some quiet country parish, came to lay the foundation stone of modern biology? And how was it that another biologist, Alfred Russel Wallace, came up with the same theory at the same time?
The answers may be found in Nicholas Drayson's delicious first novel. Purporting to be an anonymous memoir found in an attic, its author is an arrogant but brilliant homosexual whose life has crossed with that of Darwin with startling regularity. He is writing it on a small island in the Java Sea of which he is the only human inhabitant.
The island has a live volcano and, aware that his life will soon come to an end, he sets out the true story of the theory of natural selection, confesses a murder of his own, and provides a fascinating and delightful account of the plants and animals on the island. Peaceful gadzocks and bloodthirsty mistletoes, jumping cucumbers and bat-eating spiders, and most prized of all - the Golden Scarab.