World of Genus
I’ve always been fascinated by genetics and I’ve known for years that I one day wanted to write a novel that imagined where advances in the study of genetics might lead us, if people were allowed to ‘improve’ their children. But I was never sure quite how, what that world was going to look like.
Holman - who much of the plot of Genus revolves around - was the first character I came up with: the misshapen offspring of a former beauty queen and a wealthy geneticist. I wanted to create an immediate sense of mystery, as to why Holman turned out like that, when his parents had access to all the latest technology. And the more I fleshed him out, the more I realised that my protagonist bore a striking resemblance to the artist Toulouse-Lautrec; who came from an aristocratic back ground of rich, athletic men and beautiful women but inherited a rare form of dwarfism. So I thought, why not develop that: let’s make Holman even more like Toulouse-Lautrec. Make him an artist and an alcoholic, who lives among hookers; make him an incredibly talented man with such inner beauty, but who is tortured by his disability, just like Lautrec was.
I wanted the novel to be set in London. So I turned King’s Cross - which used to a very rough area, but is now actually pretty desirable - into The Kross, a place a little like Montmartre was in the Fin de Siècle Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec. A part of town where the poor and the struggling are forced to live and the rich go to for slum tourism and all night parties. The synth that many of the characters drink – slang in Genus for ‘synthetic alcohol’ - is also an oblique reference to the Absinthe that was the staple of Lautrec, Van Gogh, Gauguin and many of their contemporaries.
But the world of Genus - or more properly the ‘London’ of Genus: I wanted it to feel very claustrophobic, so deliberately we see almost nothing of the rest of the world – also carries hints of other places. For example I had in mind 1970’s New York: the rawness of the place, at a time when disco fever was hitting a city filled with crime and racial tensions. And Berlin between the wars – which was another location of artistic explosion - this feeling that you are living in some kind of end time. Not perhaps the end of the world, but the end of the world as it is now: a country teetering on the brink of a twilight fall.
That’s the feeling that I wanted in the novel: a society about to change fundamentally and irrevocably. In reality, pursuing genetic technology is by no means a bad thing: the world of Genus is intended to be very much a worst case scenario; but it’s healthy to examine extreme possibilities. If the technology that is used for genetic enrichment in my novel had been distributed equitably, across society, it could have been a utopia, a fantastic world where people don’t fear the diseases that we die from. The problems that arrive in Genus are more to do with resource hording and the divisions between rich and poor, than the technology itself. For me, at least partly, the function of speculative fiction should be to hold up a mirror to the world we inhabit now.
About the Author:
Jonathan Trigell is best known for his first novel, Boy A, which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 2004, the Waverton Good Read Award and the inaugural World Book Day Prize in 2008. Highly acclaimed critically, Boy A was described by Sarah Waters, Chair of the Judges for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, as ‘a compelling narrative, a beautifully structured piece of writing, and a thought-provoking novel of ideas... a wonderful debut.’
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Giveaway: Win 1 of 5 finished copies of Genus
GENUS is a dystopian vision of perfection from the acclaimed author of Boy A. In the Britain of the not too distant future, physical perfection is commonplace and self improvement has become an extinct expression. In a time of genetic selection and enrichment, life chances come on a sliding scale according to wealth, threatening a new apartheid based on the very building blocks of life.
With each generation, the genetically ‘Improved’ and the ‘Unimproved’ who they have come to despise have branched further apart. For some there is no money or choice, and an underclass has evolved; London’s King’s Cross, or The Kross as it is now known, has become a ghetto for the Unimproved. The Kross is a modern day Montmartre, a place visited by the wealthy for slum tourism, sex and hedonism, but where the poor are condemned to live. Unable to afford new technology they are ultimately left behind in this brave new world.
GENUS alternates between a wealth of characters including a disfigured artist, ageing model, would-be jihadi, blinded writer, mobster, campaigner, hooker, policeman and professor, who find their lives inextricably entwined, in a country threatened by both chaos and order.
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