MENDEL'S DWARF by Simon Mawer


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 Britisher Mawer's fourth novel and first to appear here is a riveting tour de force of science, suspense, philosophy, and--well, love. A research scientist in genetics, 38-year-old Benedict Lambert is a great-great-great-nephew of Gregor Mendel, the long- unrecognized Austrian priest who himself discovered genetics. Perhaps his kinship with Mendel pushed Lambert toward genetic research--though more likely it was the fact that Lambert himself is a genetic accident, a mutant: specifically, an achondroplastic dwarf. Tiny, with stubby limbs, huge head, and concave face, he causes most who see him to think of the circus. Little do they know, however, that he, like Mendel, is also a genius, seeking the one, chance-determined genetic signal--the ``single letter spelling mistake in thirty-three billion''--that causes achondroplastic dwarfs to be born. As he works, thus, at the forefront of genetic research, the question, of course, is whether he'll find his elusive quarry. Mawer's novel, though, isn't only about science, but also about people--and the suffering, acerbic, intelligent, thoughtful Lambert comes nothing if not alive. What is life like for a dwarf, and where is love to be found? Alternate chapters tell the century-old story of the stoic and celibate Mendel and the now- story of the equally stoic Lambert--including his love for charmingly mousy librarian Jean Piercey and the remarkable direction this love travels in: including not only pregnancy but a breath-stopping mystery that's unsolved (if then) until the end. Laboratory pyrotechnics, adultery, sex, outraged husband--all are narrated by the gifted Lambert, who, both as raconteur and as geneticist, knows that God, life, and chance are all one (he's ``peered behind the scenery. . . and there's nothing there''). Readable, engrossing, compelling, profound. A cornucopia of science--a veritable primer of genetics and DNA--and a story to boot that will wrench you, involve you, and leave you quite wilted. Wonderful.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-609-60106-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harmony
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997


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