Mendel's Dwarf by Simon Mawer Doubleday, $270 Fiction that concerns science, as opposed to science fiction, is not easy; it can be difficult to write and equally difficult to read. Science fiction can create and do anything it wants; it is limited only by the author's imagination. A novel about science, or one that contains a great deal of science, usually has to make an attempt at accuracy. This often means there is a great deal of boring detail and little good writing. Simon Mawer tells a story about a dwarf, Benedict Lambert, who is descended from the father of genetics, the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, and his search for the gene that causes his condition, known as achondroplasia. Some of this book's success will depend on the reader's ability to handle a complex, but not impossibly difficult, subject. Lambert is a geneticist looking for more than just a gene. He has been hardened through the many years of being literally 'looked down upon'. He is madly in love with Miss Piercy, the librarian he met when he was a young man and who many years later turns up as the librarian in his genetics laboratory. As one would expect, he has problems that he deals with in the ways most human beings do: partly by denying them, sometimes by being realistic, often by ignoring them. He is exceedingly witty and clever, to the point of cynicism, while Miss Piercy, whose given name is naturally Jean, is not cynical but she is married to a boor. The relationship these two develop is odd, intriguing, sensual, sometimes silly and bordering on the tragic. It is told with considerable wit and style by Mawer, with plenty of genetics jokes. (Barman to Lambert: 'How do you tell the sex of a chromosome?' Lambert doesn't know. 'You look up its genes!') Other jokes are more sophisticated, with references to Mendel and the many years he spent cultivating peas (the plant he used in his ground-breaking - if I may use that term - research). Interspersed with little Lambert's story is another about the famous Mendel whose theories while he was alive failed to influence anyone. The parallelism, and the irony between Mendel's search and Lambert's, are clear but Mawer does not beat us over the head with it. One can actually learn a little bit about genetics in this novel but the science should not put readers off. Whole passages could probably be skipped. That said, the more one knows, the more one will appreciate the book and what it is saying. In one sense, it is the ultimate search for roots.