At the beginning of March I posted about how depressing it can be as a new writer to keep reading good debut novels from other authors – not really! They inspire. I mentioned two I had recently read, Ruby’s Spoon and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. While I was thinking of these first time novels I re-read a couple of them and this was one. I first read it about 6 years ago as a reading group read and really enjoyed it. Full of ethical dilemmas, medical issues and the sleaze and power of the media and press – what’s not to like about that mix, especially now. The book was/is Gene Genie by Patricia Mullin.
Apart from being excellent read this novel confronts the reader with many modern day confusions and ethical dilemmas, involving issues of sleaze, media frenzy, privacy, family and parenting, medical advances as well as personal and religious values.
The tale starts quietly enough with two separate parallel lives: one man an established, ambitious, cultivated politician presented as a loving family man with a circle of solid friendships forged outside of politics. The second life is that of an intelligent young man poised at the start of his adult life. There are no villains in this story except maybe the press, determined to bring down their quarry. The press are the part of our culture that determines the course of action one of our heroes takes. It is the inherent innocence which guides the second. The unravelling of ordered life is swift and remorseless.
Two strands, one a desperate quest for identity through historic muddle, red tape and legality and during this search we have the first of man’s eternal dilemmas: does the end ever justify the means. The other strand unravels as lies and evasions pile on top of each other in an ill-judged defence of retrospective privacy. Lies, however, are treacherous companions.
It is not easy to judge our heroes as they are at heart as decent as any of us. The ‘quest’ is the result of ethical decisions decades old not revenge or ransom. The ‘defence’ is against the unexpected invasion of life not villainy or lack of humanity. The decision of one, which he hopes will bring peace of mind and freedom to continue his new life as a family man, promises chaos and destruction of family and public life for the other. What rights does each party have? There are no easy answers but maybe, although neither family will ever be the same, some kind of hopeful ending is offered.
A tale to make the reader think, ask questions. I think many, myself included, coming to this book, will already have formed our ideas on morality in the modern world but allow some room for second thoughts on this read. Life is never black and white and, by presenting us with these two essentially decent yet flawed heroes, Patricia Mullin has presented ethical dilemmas in a way that makes flat out judgements less easy.
Read and enjoy a well-crafted, thought-provoking tale of our times.