‘Based on the true story of the 1965 “dolphin house” experiment‘
[ About The Dolphin House ]
It is 1965 and Cora, a deaf young woman, buys a one-way ticket to the island of St Thomas, where she discovers four dolphins held in captivity, part of an experiment led by an obsessive Dr Bloom. Drawn by a strong connection to the dolphins, untrained Cora falls in with the scientists to protect the animals.
Recognising Cora’s knack for communication, Bloom uses her for what will turn into one of the most fascinating experiments in modern science: an attempt to teach the dolphins human language.
As the experiment progresses, Cora forges a remarkable bond with the creatures that leads to a clash with the male-dominated world of science, threatening to engulf the experiment as Cora’s fight to save the dolphins becomes a battle to save herself.
[ My Review ]
The Dolphin House by Audrey Schulman was published August 11th 2022 with Europa Editions UK and is described as a ‘spellbinding novel’. Now I have to admit that I had never heard of this particular social experiment that took place in the 1960s and I was completely shocked and disturbed when I delved a little deeper. Audrey Schulman has taken this true story and put her own fictional take on it, resulting in this extraordinary and poignant read.
Cora is a young woman, sick of the drudgery of working in bars, who decides to change her lifestyle. Being deaf makes her work more challenging and Cora is tired of trying to make ends meet. She makes an impulsive decision and buys a one-way ticket to the island of St Thomas, an island in the Caribbean. Initially she works in hospitality but one day while out exploring the island she happens upon a private lagoon, home to a small number of dolphins. Cora has always loved animals and growing up in a rural setting she was unphased by much of what she saw. When an opportunity presents itself for Cora to work with these dolphins she jumps at the chance and so begins an extraordinary journey.
Funded by NASA, the basis of this social experiment in marine science was to prove that dolphins were highly intelligent mammals. Cora had a very natural way with the dolphins so, with her assistance, the plan was to teach the dolphins to communicate through human speech. Wacky, outrageous, insane, there are multiple words that can be used to describe this really unprecedented study and Audrey Schulman excellently portrays the events that followed using fictional characters but adhering to much of the strange behaviour that ensued.
It was decided that Cora would live 24/7 with one of the dolphins, a young male named Junior. A special house was built over a type of aquarium where Cora would sleep, cook etc under constant monitoring, with every movement and sound being recorded. A special bond developed between the two and Cora became quite protective of Junior. Her lack of education and her difficulty hearing put her on the back foot in this male-dominated environment and, at times, Cora felt her confidence dip and her safety threatened. but with Junior she felt safe. To a point Cora had success with Junior but, after awhile, it became clear to her that Junior was frustrated.
Over a few weeks Cora became nearly institutionalised, immersed almost exclusively in this alternate watery world. A combination of exhaustion and isolation did impact Cora and she started to attach herself a little more to Junior. Their relationship was unconventional on every level yet the experiment continued until circumstances changed.
The Dolphin House is probably one of the most peculiar tales that I have read yet, also, one of the most fascinating. It’s unbelievable to even imagine living 24 hours in such an environment not to mind a few months. Audrey Schulman has written a seriously compelling novel evoking so many different emotions from empathy to disbelief, from heartening to heart-break and from admiration to shock.
It is well worth reading ‘The Woman Who Fell in Love With NASA’s Drug and Sex Addicted Dolphin‘ over at History of Yesterday, which will give you an overview of what this bizarre experiment entailed.
The Dolphin House is a book I highly recommend to anyone looking to step outside of their comfort zone. This is a book that will engage, confuse, disturb and provoke, it is a book that will challenge, a book that will heighten the emotions. It is a beautifully constructed tale of an outlandish and kooky social experiment that stunned the world when the truth was revealed. Do please pick up a copy and let me know what you think.
[ Bio ]
Audrey Schulman is the author of four previous novels. Her third, Three Weeks in December, was published by Europa Editions in 2012. Her work has been translated into eleven languages. Born in Montreal, Schulman now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts where she runs a not-for-profit energy efficiency organisation with her husband.
Twitter ~ @AudreySchulman