I came to this novel for a domestic thriller, and I left with thoughts about science, ethics, and the nature of humanity and personhood.
Evelyn is a world-renowned scientist known for her work with clones. She’s developed a process by which you can have a fully developed adult quote cumin within about a little over three months. She’s kind of a big deal – winning awards and making waves in the scientific communities.
Personally, her life is a bit of a mess. She’s estranged from her husband, and we don’t know why at first, but we know that there’s some bitterness there. Come to find out, her husband, Nathan, has stolen Evelyn’s methods and created a clone of her, conditioning and programming her to be the perfect wife. Her name is Martine.
One night, Martine calls Evelyn in a panic and asks her to come over, and she sees Martine standing in the doorway, covered in blood, holding a knife with a purple bruise around her neck.
Nathan is dead.
More shockingly, Martine is pregnant, which should be impossible.
One of the reasons Evelyn’s research is allowed to continue is because clones are infertile and are seen as “specimens” for specific uses. After they serve their purpose, they are “disposed of” as medical waste.
Over the course a few months, the women begin to work together and see one another as more than rivals – they form a bond. Martine is much smarter and more capable than Evelyn imagined. And Evelyn is softer than she thought she could be around Martine.
Evelyn also slowly discovers the details of Martine’s programming – Nathan designed her to be obedient, compliant, and unable to go to sleep before 9:30pm or wake up after 6:00am. As Evelyn and Martine work together, Evelyn is pleased to see Martine gradually buck her programming and revolt against the conditions set upon her by Nathan.
If all of that sounds incredible, just wait for the twist in the late second act…
A parallel narrative runs alongside that of Evelyn and Martine: Evelyn’s memories of her childhood and the damaging dynamic between her parents. Her mother is overly accommodating in order to keep Evelyn’s violent and cruel father happy. In fact, one of the ways to tell Evelyn and Martine apart is the lack of a broken wrist in the clone; a wrist which Evelyn’s father broke when she was a child.
One day, her father “disappears” under less than ideal circumstances; though his absence greatly improves the quality of life for his wife and daughter.
There are some interesting parallels between the two stories, and it leads to questions of genetics and inheritance and nature vs. nurture. This novel was uniquely thought-provoking and I left invigorated and ready to read more about some of the basic truths we take for granted when it comes to humans and development. It was a great change from a predictable Ruth Ware/Gillian Flynn kind of plot that seems to be all the rage of late.