The Human Script is an unraveling of the code of Chris Putnam’s life. It is about DNA – Chris works in a lab mapping some of the human genome and has an identical twin, someone theoretically made to be exactly the same who is in practice quite different. It is about the religious possibilities of creation – Chris’ father is a Calvinist who believes in predestination. It is about Chris’ father, who dies early in the novel but who nevertheless has fathered Chris, has influenced his development and his thinking in ways Chris does not find easy to accept. It is also a reworking of Roland Barthes – Chris’ twin, Dan, goes mad, plagued by the controlling interference of Johnny (the author), and as the novel progresses Chris feels the presence of Johnny too and attempts to confront him. In the end The Human Script reminds us that the code only has meaning when it is read.
Despite the overt intelligence working behind the novel, the catholic quotations, the philosophical and psychological conversations Chris has with his flatmate, Elsi (the only woman with a real voice in the book), that ripple out into his work and love life, and of course the science, I found myself looking forward not to what would happen next in The Human Script, but to what Johnny Rich would write next. This is a first novel that promises a glittering second. Whilst I was inhabited by the characters in a very engaging way – in particular I was caught up in Chris’ relationship with Leo, the publicly heterosexual, privately homosexual, famous actor – the narrative took turns I had not anticipated from its early pages and in the end became weighed down by the theory. The creationist grappling reminded me of Borges’s story ‘The Circular Ruins’ where a man dreams a son into existence, only to discover that he too is the progeny of dream. Borges’ ability to embed fiercely intellectual theory in narrative is something I would like to see Johnny Rich do more of in his next novel.
The Human Script is an ambitious and intriguing novel. Johnny Rich’s voice is one I hope we will all become more familiar with.
Next week I’ll be reading another overtly scientific novel, Intuition by Allegra Goodman, then Love Life by Zeruya Shalev, followed by The Last World by Christoph Ransmayr and then The Mall by S. L. Grey.