Eva Hoffman (Secker & Warburg, ?15.99)
Eva Hoffman’s novel is an ambitious attempt to sketch out the difficult choices that cloning may pose. It makes the subject urgent by taking recognisable situations and pushing them to their limits. And it gives priority to the feelings and dilemmas of the cloned person herself, something that few people in the novel-and perhaps in real life-do.
In The Secret, a talented but self-centred woman ends up without a partner and finds herself to be infertile. When pressured by her mother to produce grandchildren, she can only do this through the technology of cloning, which has just become available-in the book’s chronology, a few years from now. However, her family is repelled by her choice and she brings up the child alone, its origins a secret. The novel is about her daughter, Iris-the discovery of her origins and her attempts to develop a separate self.
The mother’s explanation to Iris, “I decided to take my fate in my own hands… I wanted to love someone,” is full of contemporary echoes. Many women now face single parenthood or are obliged, by diminished fertility, to resort to men in white coats. So why the special unease that we feel about a human clone?
One explanation lies in our search for origins. Every society has its creation myth, and every child a story of where it came from. People often feel troubled if their beginnings are clouded, for example by adoption. But even an adopted child knows that somewhere, a biological mother and father did exist. In comparison to cloning, IVF looks positively homely: two people are still making a new life together, just bypassing some bad plumbing. But how will a cloned child think about itself or tell its story?
Another cause of unease is the elimination of chance. Chance is a vital component of creativity and change. The deliberate making of an exact copy represents a break with the act of creation. At the heart of this unease is an uncertainty about science and modernity in general. The idea that there is a solution to every problem can be diminishing. It is disturbing to read interviews with scientists who see no grounds for doubt about a new technique and for whom there is no such thing, ever, as unintended consequences.
At the same time, keeping scientific innovations at arm’s length can lead…