The Hesperides Tree

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Nicholas Mosley has established a reputation as one of the most challenging of contemporary British novelists. He has done so not by writing in a difficult or obscure style, but by dealing with important philosophical questions and scientific developments in his fiction.

In The Hesperides Tree, Mosley’s unnamed young narrator becomes involved in several inexplicable incidents when he and his parents visit the west coast of Ireland. He helps another youth rescue a strange bird, glimpses a beautiful girl with whom he feels an immediate affinity, and happens upon a violent confrontation between men who appear to be terrorists or smugglers.

Upon entering a university, the young man seeks answers to life’s puzzles in biology and literature, but does not find satisfaction in either discipline. Instead he drops out of school and eventually returns to Ireland, where he meets the girl he had glimpsed years before. The two visit a tiny island, once the refuge of hermits and now home to a colony of rapidly mutating birds. The island may also be Garden of the Hesperides, in which, according to legend, the Tree of Life grows.

Mosley is careful not to answer his own questions, leaving the task instead to his readers. At one point his narrator realizes that “myths seem to have meaning without having to say what the meaning might be.” The same might be said of this provocative yet elusive novel.