This Thing of Darkness


I don’t often get gifts from a client, especially one that I haven’t actually started working with yet, but when I met Dean Madden from Reading University that’s what he did. We met to discuss ‘DNA to Darwin’, an educational resource to coincide with Darwin’s centenary next year, and to get me in the mood, he gave me a copy of This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson.

It’s a novelisation of the lives of Robert Fitzroy (Captain of the HMS Beagle), and Charles Darwin, as they make their survey expedition to South America and the Galapagos Islands, as well as Fitzroy’s first journey and the years after their return to England. Based on real events, there’s very little embellishment, and where the author has changed events to improve the narrative, these are stated at the end of the book. The most interesting change is a meeting between Darwin and General Rosas, where the future dictator’s speech defending his actions is lifted verbatim from Tony Blair. While I was aware of Darwin’s contribution to the world, I knew little about Fitzroy, but it turns he has much to be lauded for - for example, he invented weather forecasting.

It’s gripping and tragic, with a cinematic feel throughout. A part of me wanted it to end just before their return to England, as from then on it’s a downward spiral for Fitzroy. Heart-breaking tragedy aside, I have to recommend it. I haven’t a enjoyed a book so much in years.