Antisense by RP Marshall looks at how our lives and personalities are shaped by our past and perhaps even our genetics. This is of course not the first novel to do this, but the way author dissects this idea is both unique and worthwhile.
Antisense follows Dr Daniel Hayden, a rather unlikeable man, as he deals with his father’s death, his broken marriage, his stagnating career in medical research and a mystery buried deep in his family’s past. This is the first novel from RP Marshall, an ex-medical researcher himself, and it is clear that this is a writer with a promising future.
As I said above, the protagonist Dr Hayden is a pretty average human. Many writers try to write unlikeable central characters but it is a rather difficult trick to pull off. The key to the novel’s success lies in Marshall’s ability to make us feel sympathy for Daniel Hayden, even though Hayden lacks any empathy for those around him and is highly critical of others while at the same time being completely unable to look objectively at his own actions. This can make it painful for the reader to watch as Dr Hayden’s personality flaws cause him to make mistake after mistake, even if he doesn’t realise it himself. Particularly indicative of excellent writing is that all of Dr Hayden’s self destructive actions are completely believable. Often with characters such as this their actions come across as contrived and out of character. This leads to a loss of interest in the character and the novel as a whole. In Antisense, however, all of Dr Hayden’s actions flow naturally and the reader never questions whether or not he would act in the way he does. This puts the reader in the position of bystander at a car crash, utterly absorbed by what is unfurling in front of them but with no capacity to alter its course.
While the author is an ex medical researcher, and there is a strong science element to Antisense, please do not be put off if you are not a scientist yourself (I’m certainly not). I’m sure the science discussed in the novel and the depiction of life as a medical researcher is spot on, but that’s not what makes Antisense a good read. The science in Antisense, while interesting and made understandable to the layman, is used only to illuminate the central themes of the story. Similarly, the author makes the world of medical research seem real through his use of character, dialogue and his sense of place. So, even if you have never set foot in a laboratory, I’m sure you will enjoy reading Antisense.
The result of this is a debut novel of the highest order, which will stay with you long after you have put it down. I would particularly recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed reading any works by Graham Swift.
You may also like our list of must-read science fiction novels.