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The Mathematics of Love: A Novel Hardcover – January 2, 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This debut novel from Charles Darwin's great-great-granddaughter combines fiction, history and family legacy. Having lost a leg at the Battle of Waterloo, Stephen Fairhurst, ensconced at Kersey Hall, is not surprised that Hetty Greenshaw rejects his marriage proposal. But he is caught off guard when he finds he can share his darkest thoughts with Hetty's independent, artistic sister, Lucy Durward, who is fascinated by early attempts at photography. When Lucy accompanies Hetty and Hetty's new husband to Europe, Stephen escorts them around the battlefield where he once fought. Alternating with Stephen and Lucy's tale is the story of 15-year-old Anna Ware, left at Kersey Hall with her Uncle Ray in 1976 while her mother vacations. Uncle Ray has just shut down Kersey Hall School and taken in Anna's grandmother, a cruel drunk. Anna befriends neighbors Eva and Theo, who introduce her to photography and teach her about love. Darwin describes art, photography and warfare in meticulous detail. A gifted observer and novice storyteller, she loses her narrative way focusing on secondary characters (Stephen's mistress, the neglected boy Cecil), but she finds it in Anna's voice, Stephen's story and her portrait of Lucy. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

As two first-person narrators alternately tell their stories, more than a century and a half apart, the tales intertwine. Major Stephen Fairhurst, who lost a leg and the woman he loved in the Napoleonic Wars, is managing his Lancashire estate, Kersey Hall, in 1819, when he meets Lucy Durward, a forthright artist impatient with the social conventions of her time. Fifteen-year-old Anna Ward is sent alone to Kersey Hall, a newly bankrupt school run by an uncle she never met, in 1976. Photographers Eva and Theo, who live together nearby, give Anna work, training, and friendship (which goes beyond the bounds with Theo). The two stories are linked by copies of Stephen's letters, which Anna receives from a friend of Eva and Theo's, and an old daguerreotype. The novel is slow to take off, with potential confusion about narrators early on and predictable tales of love later; and Fairhurst's account is the stronger of the two, with better-developed characters and more depth. Still, elements echoing between the two narrations add interest, and first novelist Darwin displays definite literary skills. Michele Leber
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (January 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061140260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061140266
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,659,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Laura de Leon on February 1, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really liked reading this book. I enjoyed both of the timelines-- the teenager in the 1970s who has grown up a little too fast for her own good, coming to terms with her family past and future; and the ex-soldier in 1819, trying to build his future, but discovering he also must face his past before he can truly move on. I loved the ongoing ties between the timelines. It isn't a simple read, but I found it worthwhile.
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Format: Paperback
I am impressed with this book. Main and supporting characters are all vividly portrayed, and the book is rich with their thoughts and emotions, but the book does not seem crowded. There are many themes explored... love, sex, society's rules, effects of war and people and places on one another... and it's all connected and explored across two time periods, but the book is not overly complicated or difficult to follow. And I'd like to respond to another reviewer who sounded offended by people who value propriety being called "old-fashioned."

I think it's worth noting that much grief is caused by various characters' choices. I do not see loose sex being glorified in this book. While I disapprove of several choices characters make, I can follow their thoughts and feelings enough to understand them. I do not feel that this author is trying to vilify me and other people with conservative values.
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Format: Kindle Edition
It's a well-crafted and involving story - or stories, rather, since there are two timelines being followed here. Post-Napoleonic europe I found to be wonderfully detailed and engaging, and I would have to say I liked this piece of the novel the best. However it wouldn't have been entirely complete without the complementing modern-ish timeline (I believe it was around the '70s, although thinking about it, I'm not sure it was ever stated... it *felt* like the 70s to me, however).

I also learnt a fair amount about the development of photography's beginnings in the one timeline, and the art photography was becoming in the other, although it by no means dominated the story - but it certainly made me look at my camera in a different (and more appreciative) way!

There were a few niggling issues - a few things were just confusing (the whole thing with Cecil, for instance, and Ray and Belle for that matter were never really explained), I'm not entirely sure what was up with the italic sequences at the end of chapters, and as others have said, I could have done without the sex. Most of all, without getting too detailed, I would have preferred it if she hadn't attempted to tie the two stories together right at the end; there were already plenty of mirrors and touchpoints between the two and what had been until then a lovely parallel became somewhat clumsy right in the closing pages of the story.

But overall: I very much enjoyed reading this book, and would definitely recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
Emma Darwin's mastery of language in the service of both sense and sensibility leaves me so conscious of my own limitations that I'd never have attempted to review this book were it not for my dismay at some of the other reviews here. THE MATHEMATICS OF LOVE is intricate and spellbinding novel, beautifully written and finely detailed. It's a tumultuous and glorious emotional adventure.

Although I've spent years studying the Napoleonic Wars, particularly the war in Spain, Darwin's perspective makes that tragic, brutal terrain fresh and haunting. At first I resented the segues into the 1970s, but Darwin skillfully weaves them into the older story, and they soon become compelling in their own right. The leading characters (Major Fairhurst, Miss Durward, Katrijn, Anna, Theo, Eva, and Cecil) felt as vital and precious to me as if they actually inhabited my own world. The minor ones, too (the Stebbings, the Barracloughs, Mercedes, Penny, Susan, etc.), are wonderfully realized.

Darwin looks squarely at some of the greatest cruelties human beings can inflict on one another, yet somehow manages to infuse the reader with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the beauty of this world; for the wounded, brave souls who inhabit it; and for those who came before us. Thank you, Emma Darwin.
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