To say that M.T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing, Volume 1 was a thrilling experience is putting the cat’s admiration for this massive piece of literature mildly. Definitely a smack in the face – but in the awe-inspiring way – and nothing like the cat had ever read before. Truthful, on point, consistent,… a definite eye-opener and a different take on true historiographic writing.
The second volume takes off after a neat 2-page summary of Volume 1 (yes, it is possible to summarize it all in 2 pages, apparently!) and we’re immediately thrown into the action of the Revolutionary War. If anything, Volume 2 sees more action (it’s a good 100 pages longer too) than the first Volume, which definitely focused more on the process of ‘becoming Octavian Nothing’ than The Kingdom on the Waves. In this respect, Volume 2 is more of a straightforward historical novel than The Pox Party ever was. The innocence with which the reader gets to see things is lost in Volume 2, in favor of the disillusionment and desperation that a war can bring. A war, which wasn’t even supposed to be Octavian’s war. Because of his ‘special’ education, the only option Octavian sees is to join the Ethiopian Regiment and to fight his way to freedom through the Kingdom on the Waves.
Though M.T. Anderson keeps up the consistency in the language and in the overall approach to Octavian’s story – Anderson is nothing if not a masterful language artist – the appeal that Volume 1 had kind of got lost along with Octavian’s innocence. I guess, what’s missing most is the sense of “this is definitely something different”, the magic element which made Volume 1 into that special book you want everyone to “experience”, because that’s what it truly was: an Experience! Volume 1 focused on the sociological experiment that was Octavian, while Volume 2 – though still impressive in its masterful execution – is historical fiction, focusing on a little known aspect of the Revolutionary War.
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, volume 1 was not just an epic masterpiece, but the most compassionate story imaginable about a truly horrific social experiment, which the cat had hoped to read even more about in Volume 2. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, volume 2, is definitely epic in its scope and execution, but the cat wouldn’t go as far as calling this part a masterpiece. Fascinating story about fascinating times, but with Volume 1 as an “introduction”, the cat expected even more…