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Genus

Genus - Jonathan Trigell Genus is set in a BladeRunneresque future London rid of religion following a series of 'Caliphate Wars' which have lain waste to half of mainland Europe. People have ID chips in their arms, drink synthetic alcohols and children can be genetically 'enriched'. There are a number of vividly memorable characters, the main ones being Holman Prometheus and Detective G√ľnther Charles Bonnet. Holman, the son of a famous model (and the last ever winner of 'Miss Natural') is a deformed and dwarfish artist who struggles to get around on his "fractal, valgus legs." Detective Gunt on the other hand is "as handsome as a politician" and is the sort of policeman Jeremy Clarkson would admire. In between beating up suspects, he is investigating a series of violent deaths which lead him to something more dangerous as Genus mutates into a conspiracy thriller.Like Trigell's powerful debut, 'Boy A', a sharp analysis of society underpins this novel. Despite being set in the future, or perhaps because of it, Genus is a blazingly good contemporary novel. Earlier this year, Graham Swift wrote that "the novel that's contemporary in the sense of being wholly 'of now' is an impossibility, if only because novels may take years to write, so the 'now' with which they begin will be defunct by the time they're finished." However, as he also pointed out, they can have "nowness" or "something which actually out-thrills the thrill of the merely contemporary. They can have immediacy."Genus certainly has - or, by the time you read this, had - immediacy. Published in July 2011, it includes a punchy depiction of riots of the kind which London experienced a few weeks later. At which point Trigell turns up the power:"Gunt was in the thick of it. Gunt was dealing out turbans - bandaged heads - with his retractable steel club. Soon that was snapped, broken on scum-skull. Instead he took a baseball bat from the hand of some fat gene-lack. Smashed it into the man's own kneecap. Gunt didn't arrest anyone. Gunt didn't want slowing down. It was like truncheoning the sea. But Gunt was wading anyway. Gunt was bloody. Gunt was happy."Elsewhere, "The blue spark of a stun gun is seen in The Kross, a jagged flash visible for an instant before it is buried in someone's neck. They drop to the floor and twitch among the sharp confetti, tinsel crystals of broken glass. It is a crystal night. Might yet be harbinger to such things as crystal nights have signalled before. The assailant is just protecting his property. Defending what is his."'The Kross' is King's Cross, which has become a ghetto for the genetically 'unimproved', wherein this novel is confined. It may be, as the author himself has pointed out in an interview, that beyond The Kross, Britain might have been greatly improved - a genetically engineered utopia. Perhaps dystopia is always with us, and always has been, beneath polite society where the underclasses reside. As a character we know only as 'The Professor' muses:"meritocratic capitalism was never a fairer system, in the strictest sense, than feudalism; it only randomly selected different winners and allowed more people to win. Now that the castes are genetic - with the hopeless breeders lingering far beneath - life's winners are generally predetermined and genuinely superior, it's no fairer, but is it really any less fair? The best prosper and leave ever-fitter offspring, it was always thus, only the speed has improved."Thought-provoking, surprising and written with real verve, Genus exceeded my expectations and confirmed Jonathan Trigell as a must-read author.