I was a much (much, much) younger man when I wrote Descent of Man, and my mind wasn’t perhaps as firm and disciplined as it is now. On the other hand, life seemed a whole lot funnier to me then than now, and I think this is reflected not only in the text of the original but in the annotations the older me has made here. Still, I can’t help thinking, why not be just a wee bit antic?
First edition of Boyle’s first book, signed on the title-page, with a drawing of a whale on the front flyleaf, captioned “My totem animal.” On the rear flyleaf he has drawn “My totem animal’s offspring.” Underneath the title he has written, “Almost? A legend?” Animal sketches and renderings of some of the characters, such as Konrad, pepper the text. Konrad is one of the great characters in all of literature, a chimpanzee engaged in translating Darwin’s Descent of Man into Yerkish, with Chomsky and Nietzsche on his to-do list. Critics delighted in Boyle’s fecund imagination, his eagerness to leap over boundaries. He is, the Times reviewer aptly noted, “a writer who is willing to try anything.” This premier introduced many of the themes of Boyle’s later work: the strange and often volatile exchanges that occur between humans and the other aspects of the natural world; the sense of loss and disillusionment that accompany so many human achievements, whether astronauts, Norsemen or Idi Amin.
BOYLE, T. Coraghessan (b. 1948). Descent of Man. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1979. 8°. Original black cloth (spine cracked, some leaves starting); dust jacket.