From Publishers Weekly
Ambitious, erudite and well-sourced, Leavitt's 12th work of fiction centers on the relationship between mathematicians G.H. Hardy (1877–1947) and Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887–1920). In January of 1913, Cambridge-based Hardy receives a nine-page letter filled with prime number theorems from S. Ramanujan, a young accounts clerk in Madras. Intrigued, Hardy consults his colleague and collaborator, J.E. Littlewood; the two soon decide Ramanujan is a mathematical genius and that he should emigrate to Cambridge to work with them. Hardy recruits the young, eager don, Eric Neville, and his wife, Alice, to travel to India and expedite Ramanujan's arrival; Alice's changing affections, WWI and Ramanujan's enigmatic ailments add obstacles. Meanwhile, Hardy, a reclusive scholar and closeted homosexual, narrates a second story line cast as a series of 1936 Harvard lectures, some of them imagined. Ramanujan comes to renown as the the Hindu calculator discussions of mathematics and bits of Cambridge's often risqué academic culture (including D.H. Lawrence's 1915 visit) add authenticity. Hardy is hardly likable, however, and Leavitt (While England Sleeps
, etc.) packs too much into the epic-length proceedings, at the expense of pace. (Sept.)
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Based on a lecture given by a real-life Hardy in 1913, this intellectual and historical novel explores the beauty of mathematics, the nature of creativity, sexual repression, class relations, and the frailty of human connection-all set against the decline of empire and war. David Leavitt, best known for While England Sleeps
(1993), impressed critics with his research and the novel's accessibility; even his discussions of the Riemann hypothesis and the secret order of the primes offered them interest. Leavitt depicts his characters, however, less successfully. A few reviewers complained about Ramanujan's ambiguity, questioned his decision to characterize Hardy as gay, and criticized cameos of historical figures such as D. H. Lawrence. The Indian Clerk
is a flawed but intriguing look into the zeitgeist of the British Empire in the early 20th century.
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