a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|This book begins with the discovery of a three-year old girl named Azalea, alone at a seaside fairground and goes on to show us that her life is filled with surprising coincidences. When she grows up to be a poetry professor, Azalea herself contacts Thomas Post (aka The Coincidence Man), another professor who analyzes and debunks coincidences using mathematics.|
Azalea and Thomas enter into a romantic relationship which is threatened in two ways by the coincidences of Azalea's life. On the one hand, it is a major source of disagreement between the lovers: is life filled with random and meaningless occurrences or is it the fulfillment of some deeper plan? More seriously, Azalea believes that the pattern of her life suggests that she herself will die on June 21 of the very year that they met, a prediction that Thomas is embarrassed to admit he fears.
Judging this book by its cover, I feared that I would find its attempt at mathematically analyzing coincidences to be pathetic and that the promised coincidences would bore me (since, of course, this is a novel and the coincidences are not surprising but rather the plan of the author.) I was wrong on both counts. Post's mathematical discussions were fine and reasonable, including portions of a lecture that he gives to his students. (Although, he is sometimes a bit of a stereotype: smart but seemingly blind to some simple and obvious truths that frustrate his colleague in psychology.) And, I did get caught up in the intriguing coincidences in the life of this one character; her life was like an interesting work of art.
However, if this book was supposed to actually address something deep then I'm afraid either it failed or I missed it. It's discussions of determinism versus randomness and of free will versus a "divine" plan, remained relatively shallow. The only interesting thing that this book added to the discussion (beyond what anyone who thought about it would already have considered) was Azalea's life. And, as we know that her story was just the creation of J.W. Ironmonger, it really does not affect the argument as it applies to the real world. (I almost wish Azalea and Thomas could have realized that they were in a novel, as in Stranger than Fiction, but this book does not take that meta-fictional approach.)
In summary, it is a very nice story about a woman whose life contains some startling coincidences and her romance with a man who loves her but does not want to be startled by them. There is a little math scattered throughout it here and there, and the rational/mathematical approach to probability is certainly one of the two competing themes of the book, but it has nothing particular to add to our understanding of it beyond its use in this lovely work of art.
|Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.com.|
|(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.)|
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)