The Mathematics of Love:
books within the book
Novels aren't histories, and I don't think they should usually have bibliographies or notes or formal lists of further reading. But sometimes, I know, when you reach the end of a book you don't want it to end: you want to read on and round the story that's so recently (I hope) absorbed you. So, if you want to stay with The Mathematics of Love a little longer, or you rcurioustiy has been arounsed by something in it, here are just a few of the books that have left their traces in its pages.
Novels aren’t histories and I don’t think they should have bibliographies or notes or formal lists of further reading. But sometimes, I know, when you reach the end of a book you don’t want it to end: you want to read on and round the story that’s so recently (I hope) absorbed you. So, if you want to stay with The Mathematics of Love, or if your curiosity has been aroused by something in it, here are just a few of the books that have left their traces in its pages.
Possession by A.S. Byatt. I hadn’t read this when I originally wrote The Mathematics of Love, but I decided to study it for the dissertation element of my master’s degree in writing because I’d got interested in how parallel narratives work by trying to write one myself. I loved the book as a reader, but as a writer I studied with increasing respect how sophisticatedly Byatt interweaves her narratives. From it I borrowed the way that letters and diaries have a real, physical presence in her novel: what state they’re in and how they feel is part of the story they tell, which is part of the story Byatt tells us.
The Spanish Bride by Georgette Heyer. One of Heyer’s best, which introduced me to the Peninsular War and the memoirs of John Kincaid, of which more later. Thirty years after her death, Heyer is a still huge seller who is very – and very unfairly – underrated, though Byatt, among others, has written perceptively and enthusiastically about her. Powerful storytelling, stylish prose, and meticulous research lightly worn.
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Lively. The most perfect, and perfectly frightening, children’s time-slip novel of all, to my mind, though Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden comes a close second. It is at the same time one of the classic girls’-school novels, with a strong atmosphere of the “ordinary” gone awry.
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd. Time-slip fiction for the seriously grown up, an unreliable narrator, a powerful sense of evil, and brilliant writing: just describing it makes the hairs prickle on the back of my neck. This is the book which showed me in my teens what modern historical fiction could be. I was fascinated by a narrator who has a ferociously subjective view of events, and by how, if the story is told through his or her eyes and voice, the writer can still convey things the narrator doesn’t understand or won’t speak of. Ackroyd’s Chatterton is equally compelling.
The Sidmouth Letters by Jane Gardam. A wonderful short story collection, which I encountered as a teenager. Reading Gardam was the first time I consciously realized that a writer was really using different voices and points-of-view in fiction.
Emma by Jane Austen. I went back to Austen – not that I ever need much excuse – to get the rhythm and form of early nineteenth century prose. Nothing is more horrible to read than pastiche Austen, so I then put her and Kincaid’s voices aside, to stew in that strange cauldron in one’s head where fictional voices mature, until they’re ready to be born as something authentic-seeming yet completely new on one’s own page.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Cassandra is seventeen, “poised between childhood and adultery,” marooned with her family in a crumbling house in 1930s Suffolk. It’s very, very funny, as well as heartbreaking. It’s such a beloved book that I didn’t quite realise how many echoes there were in The Mathematics of Love till my editor pointed it out, though I’m not sure if Cassandra and Anna would like each other.
Adventures in the Rifle Brigade by John Kincaid. Kincaid was a captain in Wellington’s army and this is the first volume of his memoirs, published in 1819 and never since out of print. It was my source for some of Stephen’s stories, the main inspiration for the tone of his letters, and an important flavor in his narrative too. Kincaid is wry and witty and warm, and I wish I’d known him, though I suspect he would have teased Stephen in the officers’ mess.
The Armies of Wellington by Philip J. Haythornethwaite. The kind of book all writers hope for when they start researching a new historical novel: a comprehensive and well-written account of all the different parts of Wellington’s army, from cavalry to cannon to catering, and how they fitted together in theory and in practice, which was often a rather different matter. Much of what Stephen doesn’t talk about – his nightmares – came from this book. At the end is a good, brief account of the Peninsular and Waterloo campaigns.
Slightly Out of Focus by Robert Capa. Theo’s origins and experience are very loosely those of this famous war photographer. Capa wrote his apparently unreliable but certainly fascinating memoir some years before he was killed by a landmine in Indo-China in the fifties. I hope he wouldn’t mind that I borrowed one of his photographs of the Spanish Civil War and gave it to Theo, because it was so much better than anything I could have invented for him. Theo also quotes from his account of the D-Day landings in Normandy.
On Photography by Susan Sontag. A famous long essay or short book, which I discovered when I was studying photography. It was this that set me thinking years ago about time, light, voyeurism, what’s happening between two people when one makes the other’s portrait, and the rights and wrongs of making and selling images of war. Lucy and Theo are particularly grateful for Sontag’s insights, though they don’t always agree with her.
Pioneers of Photography: an Album of Pictures and Words by Aaron Scharf. Photographs and writings from the very beginnings of photography, including Wedgwood, Nièpce (whom Lucy goes to see), and the wonderfully ebullient Nadar, who kindly supplied some of the epigraphs in The Mathematics of Love.
Emma Darwin by Edna Healey. This biography of my great-great-grandmother, who was born Emma Wedgwood, supplied much of what I needed to know about Tom Wedgwood and Dr. Robert Darwin, who was married to Tom’s sister. Emma’s father was Tom’s brother Josiah Wedgwood II; in The Mathematics of Love, when Lucy goes to see Tom Wedgwood’s “sun pictures,” Hetty is entertained by Mrs. Wedgwood’s daughters, including Emma, who later married her first cousin, Robert Darwin’s son Charles.