Creating the feeling of a found document, prizewinning Australian writer Woolfe pieces together an intriguing and expansive novel of ideas—showing the ways in which love, motherhood, and mathematics wrap around the human soul. Three generations of Montrose women emerge from the narrative: Hypatia writes of her legendary mother Francis, a gifted and acclaimed mathematician; Francis, in turn, tells the story of her mother, the brilliant, breathtaking Juanita. Meanwhile, Hypatia frequently offers her own narrative in the form of disgruntled letters to Francis, or in in the form of brief biographical commentaries on some of history's great mathematicians. The staggered segments of personal and historical chronology help shape the central story of Francis Montrose, who discovers for the world a whole new kind of number. Having devoted her life to building on the work of Juanita, Francis, a ridiculed amateur, is invited to a mathematics conference in Athens to present her incomprehensible conjectures, which are of ``such fierce, austere beauty, you might think God is real.'' What she is really hoping to give the world is a tribute to her beautiful, aloof mother. Juanita, raised in an Australian convent when her Spanish father was mysteriously assassinated and her mother took to gambling, is a savant, a secret mathematical genius who spends her later married life scribbling groundbreaking theories on scraps of paper. Trapped in a life of domesticity while dreaming of infinity, she pins her hopes on her beautiful son, but it is the plain and ignored Francis who inherits the gift of the abstract mind and becomes obsessed with becoming her mother. As the climax of the story, Hypatia tells of the renowned ``missing days'' when Francis completes her theory on a deserted Greek beach and finally slips out from under the domineering ghost of Juanita. A lovely novel, magical in its elevation of mathematics into a realm of divine beauty, charming in its depiction of the equally demanding sphere of motherhood.
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