The Hampdenshire Wonder by J.D. Beresford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Wonder (The Hampdenshire Wonder)by J.D. Beresford
This is billed as Science Fiction and it is; but the reader is required to endure 50 pages of build up to get to it. Not that that's entirely bad, because the writing is fairly engaging; it's just that sometimes it becomes questionable where the whole thing is heading. There is a sort of feel similar to some Mark Twain story telling that left me looking for the humorous turn of events coming up around the bend. But this is more of a serious piece; once you get past the 25% mark.
There is some justification for the long lead-in. The first is to introduce us to the narrator who first sees Victor Stott, as a very remarkable child, on a train. We then digress to the story of Ginger Stott, Victor's father, and his story. The idea, I suppose, is to start with a national pastime, Cricket in this case, and create the character of Ginger: a self taught Cricket prodigy. When a tragic injury takes Ginger out of the game, he tries to train other players; but finds that they all have formed bad habits and are not trainable to his methods. He decides that the only way to train anyone would be to keep them isolated from the game until they were a teen and then train them from the place of having no previously formed habits.
This leads to Ginger getting married. This happens in much of a manner that looks like-Ellen Mary Jakes, a long time spinster, finds out about Gingers plans and offers herself; to which he responds, "Well! I dunno why not". This union results in one offspring when Ellen who is near her fifties gives birth to a possibly hydrocephalic boy. The boy, Victor, is not expected to live; but surprises everyone. Though he lives; Victory will not carry on the family Cricket legacy. Victor's large head seems to be there to house his higher intellect, because he turns out to be a prodigy in his own way; though this will be difficult to determine, because he hardly ever speaks.
Though in part this story delivers a message about what life might be like for someone who can't have that sense of awe (wonder) that we all have from the world around us and all the marvels of science and philosophy, it is also a window into problems with education; that continue to plague us to this day.
It becomes clear early that at age three or four Victor can absorb all the information from the dictionary, the encyclopedia, the bible and a whole library of books; and that the present education system is geared to drag him down because it's made to accommodate a rather average intellect. That doesn't even account for his rather strange social skills, or what looks like a lack of social skills.
Because the story is told from a viewpoint outside of the prodigy, which makes some sense because one wonders what the inside of the prodigies thought process might look like; it gives the reader a story that seems to revolve around and about the reaction to the prodigy rather than any notion about how the prodigy must feel about things. That leads to our narrator using other people’s thoughts and feelings to try to come up with a picture of what it must be like for the prodigy.
Once you read this you will see that the title of The Wonder or The Hampdenshire Wonder can almost have two meanings and that adds just the right touch to the whole piece.
This is definitely for SFF lovers who don't mind watching the kettle boil or paint dry to get to the interesting parts. Still it does stick in the mind as one of the classics that set the pace for others to follow.
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