Simon Mawer’s Mendel’s Dwarf: Excerpt #1

Doctor Benedict Lambert, the celebrated Benedict Lambert, the diminutive Benedict Lambert, the courageous Benedict Lambert (adjectives skating carefully around the essence of it all) stands to address the members of the Mendel Symposium. Applause has died away. The silence—eyes watching, breath held, hands stilled above notebooks supplied by courtesy of Hewison Pharmaceuticals—is complete. There before the good doctor, ranged in rows like sample tubes in a rack, are all the phenotypes one could wish to see: male and female, ectomorphic and endomorphic, dolichocephalic and brachycephalic, Nordic, Mediterranean, Slav, Mongoloid (three), Negroid (one). There are chins cleft¹ and normal, hair curly² and straight, eyes blue³ and brown and green, skins white, brown, yellow, and black,4 crania bald5 and hirsute. It is almost as though the organisers (the Mendelian Association of America in conjunction with Hewison Pharmaceuticals and the Masaryk University of Brno) have trawled through the whole gamut of human variation in order to come up with a representative genetic mix. And yet …

… and yet there is a constancy that is obvious to all, but consciously perceived only by the truncated figure up on the podium: each and every one of the earnest watchers is subsumed under the epithet phenotypically normal.

¹ autosomal dominant

² autosomal dominant

³ autosomal recessive, probably controlled by genes at two different loci

4 polygenic control

5 sex-limited autosomal dominant

— Simon Mawer, Mendel’s Dwarf (Abacus, 2011 [1997]), pp. 1–2