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The Human Script by Johnny Rich

human-script-final

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Red Button Publishing for sending me a Kindle review copy of the book, it is much appreciated!

London in the spring of 2000: Chris Putnam, a young scientist working on the Human Genome Project, is grieving for the end of his first relationship and the loss of his deeply religious and estranged father. Then Chris falls in love and his twin brother goes missing. Events take Chris on a journey from the hallowed halls of scientific research via decadent art-scene parties and London’s Theatreland to the cold loneliness of a psychiatric hospital and ultimately to a desperate decision. What Chris discovers about himself and his world forces him to address his own nature, his own beliefs and his own reality.

In The Human Script science, philosophy, literary theory and religion intertwine in a poignant and tragic love story that asks the question: what is it to be human?

This book was deeply philosophical and also scientific in nature, and I became especially engrossed in it when I realised that it was about twins and the nature/nurture debate, and the differences in genetically identical siblings (as a triplet myself, I am always fascinated by this.) Do our genes dictate how we turn out? Or is it our environment that shapes who we are as people? And who or what has created us? Who controls our reality?

In terms of literary achievement, this book ticks many boxes: a good plot, an engaging romance story, mystery and narrative experimentation. The protagonist, Chris Putnam, is a scientist, a lab assistant whose initial view of the world is one built on logic and evidence. I say initial, because as the novel goes on, his perceptions and thoughts begin to change as certain events unfold. What’s quite interesting is that the text is set in a scientific thesis form – i.e it actually includes footnotes. These don’t interrupt the flow of the book, in fact they give it an added depth, especially when you notice a sneaky footnote that changes the whole dynamic of the narrative – and no, I won’t tell you which it is. Read and use it properly. It’s very entertaining and far more satisfying than cheating!

In fact, the narrator even compares the human body to a scientific paper, which for me was a fascinating outlook:

The human genome is a life written in a book where every word has been written before. A story endlessly rehearsed. Quotations cited and recited because once they were apt, the fittest to survive.

The Human Script explores reality, morality, and religion. It is fascinating, especially in the context of Chris and Dan’s relationship as twin brothers. Dan Putnam is highly artistic, reckless, and confident. Chris is science and logic-driven and often extremely insecure. Their differences outweigh their similarities in many ways.

Chris grew up stubborn and unrelenting about his scientific beliefs, especially his conviction that it is not God who dictates a person’s nature and lifestyle, and that it is in fact DNA and genes that determine them. This leads Chris to constantly question whether it is because of this that his relationship with his father was unable to be mended before his father died. Should he have been so steadfast and unmoving just because his religious father could not understand his life choices? Should he have put these differences aside for the sake of more important things? With the loss of his father as a trigger point, Chris begins to doubt the world around him and, more specifically, the nature of his reality. Is his belief system actually right? Or has he been closed-minded over the years?

How do I prove my father is not at his desk behind the door and if I open it I… Experiments and observations demonstrate what is, not what is not. How do I prove my father’s dead or that there are no such things as ghosts or souls or God? Just because something isn’t real, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Even a projection of the mind is a kind of existence. Thoughts have physics – the electro-chemical floods and pulses that wash around the brain. Ghosts are real in their own way, but not independent of those who see them.

One slight concern I had about three quarters of the way through the book was that the philosophical questions and passages were beginning to feel a bit heavy. I do feel like the book would have done just as well if it contained fewer of these type of passages, especially at the times when I felt that the narrative began to repeat its musings over and over again just in different wording. However, this didn’t last long and once I powered through that I realised that these musings and philosophical explorations were woven into the story well and served a good purpose. I could tell what value they added to the story as a whole, but it wouldn’t have suffered to perhaps tone it down a little.

The fact that the narrator immerses the characters in the book among these philosophical musings – in fact, the author kind of uses them as ‘case studies’ within the text to test different hypotheses – makes the characters much more interesting and well-rounded as a result. I loved reading the relationship with Chris and his brother, and Chris and his boyfriend, and Chris and his room mate, and how these relationships are affected by the nature of their perceptions of the world. For instance, his room mate Elsi, who studies philosophy, has a tendency to advise and console Chris based on whichever philosophical theory she happens to agree with. His boyfriend Leo falls in love with him partially because he feels an innate need to look after and care for someone. Dan – for the most part carefree – worries less about consequences and more about enjoying living and advises his brother to do the same.

Chris’ feelings and emotions towards the characters in his life are, initially if not consistently, based on his own tendencies to perceive the world as purely scientific, without a deity or higher force. Chris recognises that as identical twins, he and his brother are much like molecules in the river Thames – “Just molecules of water, two hydrogen atoms, once oxygen, and they’re all identical. Clones, differentiated only by their different places in the flow.” Essentially, Chris and Dan are genetically the same, but somehow somewhere in the ‘flow’ of life, they became so very different, and this novel shows his struggle to understand exactly why. Anyone interested in twins and multiple births will be so fascinated by this book.

At first, I was worried that the narrative style would be distracting – at times Chris’ words come out in an unrelenting rush, and this is how the novel starts:

Because there’s freedom in the air, ‘Good morning’ I beam to Peter the old security guard who sits in his hut at the Gower Street gate and who once told me he still likes to fish at weekends and who looks up to see which person is bothering to talk to him.

This alarmed me a little at first because I worried that the entire novel would be written in this vein and that I would get impatient very quickly. However, after the first chapter I soon got used to this unique narrative style and I found that this ebbs and flows as the text moves along. It calms down and introduces more pauses and more mainstream punctuation and I realised that the narrative style changes as Chris’ mood changes, a very clever and effective device  in the novel’s storytelling. When he is feeling a particularly strong emotions, his grasp on order and rules lessens, and this is when the above narrative technique kicks in. At this point, as the novel opens, Chris is very happy, and it also comes back into play at times when he is also feeling very agitated or upset. I thought it worked incredibly well.

Here I can understand why the novel was discovered and produced by Red Button Publishing, where it may not have been recognised for the great achievement that it is in a ‘Big 5’ mainstream publishing house. The book is incredibly clever and smart, and really made me think, while keeping me entertained to the end. The characters were engaging, and the plot was gripping. If you want to try something truly different and unique, I would highly recommend this book. I really enjoyed it.

Click here to buy a digital copy of the book.

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