As Editor of Lablit.com, I often receive interesting emails in the magazine’s Inbox. By far the most common are from readers letting us know about specimens of lab lit (realistic mainstream fiction featuring scientists as central characters) that we may have missed. Our curated List of novels currently stands at a bit more than a hundred, with about ten in the current inspection queue and more being suggested every month. Nearly every novel listed is written in English, but this is not deliberate: we can only report what we know about, and all suggestions we’ve had to date (aside from Daniel Kehlmans’s Die Vermessung der Welt) have been for English language titles.
Last month, however, we received an engaging email from Lennert Coumans, a Dutch masters student of immunology at Maastricht University, alerting us to the existence of the novel Impact Factor by Paul Brand, a pediatrician and researcher in Zwolle. Although the title is in English (presumably because the concept of the impact factor is a universal evil), the rest of it is penned in Dutch with no apparent translation available. The novel, Lennert reported, is about a female PhD student whose life swerves into chaos after a night of passion with an unscrupulous colleague at a scientific meeting.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Naturally I was hooked – but alas, the book was no longer available on Amazon. At this point Lennert stepped up to the plate, offering to bring me a copy on his upcoming holiday in London. My Dutch is fairly passable after a four-year stint in Amsterdam, though I’ve never tried to read more than the local rag, De Volkskrant, in that tongue. But what better opportunity to try?
The handoff occurred yesterday in The Olde Mitre (hat tip to Matt for the recommendation) with soaking wet feet over a few pints of Adnam’s Broadside, followed by an unsuccessful but very damp attempt to assuage Lennert’s girlfriend’s sudden acute craving for pannenkoeken in Soho. On the Tube trip home, I couldn’t resist having a quick peek at the opening scene: in which our heroine, Marieke, feeling sexually restless (like “a free bird”) after a brief, unfulfilling relationship with a cove called Max, is standing coyly at her poster, scoping out all the male scientists passing by…
Don’t tell him about your data, sweetheart. He’s not worth it.