MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The One Plus One (2014)
Jojo Moyes
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The title presumably primarily refers to the couple in the romance: Jess (a single mom struggling to make ends meet by working as a cleaning woman) and Ed (a well-off client of hers, facing charges for insider trading). However, more importantly for this Website, the mathematical nature of the title is inspired by Jess' eight year old daughter, Tanzie, whose mathematical ability has earned her a scholarship from a prestigious private school.

In those chapters written from Tanzie's point of view, we learn a lot about how she thinks. She notices quantities of things (cars in a car park) and estimates the measure of angles in the world around her (the cars again, or a trimmed hedge). She "likes only maths . . . and dogs". Like other children her age, she ignores the droning of adults saying things that she finds uninteresting, but what she does find interesting is unusual. For instance, when she first meets the maths department head at the school he offers her biscuits and some of his research papers to look at. She ignores what he's saying, but concentrates both on the cookies and the papers. She recognizes that the papers are on renewal theory, a subject she learned about on the Internet (and you can, too!). She begins asking the teacher intelligent questions about it and begging her mom to get her copies of the papers.

A major plot point is her journey to Scotland to participate in a math competitionwith a 5,000 pound prize in order to raise the extra money she would need to attend the school. This is curious to me. I just finished a run of twelve years as the director of a math competition for high school students here in the Southeastern US. Twice during that time, when we hosted the AMS's "Who Wants to be a Mathematician" game, there were cash prizes. However, that was quite unusual. I have never heard of a cash prize for the elementary school Olympiads. Does anyone know whether there really would be an opportunity for a mathematically talented eight year old to win cash to pay for school expenses by participating in Olympiads or other contests in the UK, or is this as unrealistic as it initially seemed to me?

Towards the end of the book there is a mathematical comment about emergent phenomena:

(quoted from The One Plus One)

Strong emergence says that the sum of a number can be more than its constituent parts.

I suppose it was intended to be a deep statement about the way the characters of the book benefitted from being together. However, for me it does not quite work and was therefore anticlimactic. For one thing, I really don't believe that a contest for elementary school children -- even very bright ones -- would have a question on emergence. Also, there is no such thing as "the sum of a number". Finally, although emergent phenomena are quite interesting, they are still an aspect of "the sum of the constituent components" (even if it would have been difficult for us to have predicted it from knowledge of the properties of those components).

Moyes is a very popular author, and many of her fans consider this her best novel yet.

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(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The One Plus One
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  2. Casebook by Mona Simpson
  3. The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
  4. Music of the Spheres by Ken Liu
  5. Long Division by Michael Redhill
  6. The Geometry of Sisters by Luanne Rice
  7. Gifted by Marc Webb (director) / Tom Flynn (writer)
  8. The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks
  9. Mefisto: A Novel by John Banville
  10. Rough Strife by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Ratings for The One Plus One:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
2.75/5 (4 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
4.25/5 (4 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreRomance,
MotifProdigies, Female Mathematicians, Math Education,
Topic
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)