|This murder mystery which takes place at the IHES in Paris was originally entitled "Dis-moi qui tu aimes (je te dirai
qui tu hais)". However, it has just been
be republished (Fall of 2002) with a change in title by Aleas-Editeur. This new title,
which she says was suggested by Alain Connes [of non-commutative geometry
fame], is a play on words. It literally translates as "Math to the Death",
but when pronounced it sounds like the French word for "braggart".
(Click on the picture of the cover at right for a "blowup" large enough to
characters are particular mathematicians, whom you might recognize if
you are sufficiently familiar with the IHES and its inhabitants. As explained below, the author of the book was a secretary at the IHES who began a career in writing after losing her job there. The book jacket states:
"A large peaceful park fifteen miles from
Paris. Scientists inattentive and apparently inoffensive,
come from the four corners of the world to explore their common passion: pure math research. Up there on the hill, the tower seems to take care of its kingdom; and then, one
beautiful morning, the body of a mathematician is found lying between a chestnut and
The reader will find in this novel an analysis of the psychology of the researchers, a bunch of
anecdotes and the description of a medium little known to the general public." (Please forgive the rough translation.)
I have just (Feb 2001) received an interesting message from Eric Maldague in Paris who has additional "behind the scenes" information to add to my description of this book:
And now I have received a message from the author herself adding a few more pieces of useful information:
I was very surprised to read a review of Nicole's book on your
website. It's amazing to think that, after 10 years, this book is still
read in the US.
I've been a friend of Nicole's (or Margot Bruyère, as she chooses to be
called when we refer to her books) for more than a decade now. I'm her
"official" proof-reader, computer advisor, and she likes to call me "her
The IHES was founded by Motchane in 1958 and Nicole was hired there in
1971. She worked with Mr Motchane only for a year, his last year at
the head of the Institute. Then she worked with Mr Kuiper for 14
years, and another 2 years with the new Director. She was far more
than an angry secretary actually: she was the attachee de direction of
the IHES, right beneath the Director in the hierarchic scale. Two
years after Kuiper ended his mandate and the new Director (whose name
I can't remember) began his, he abruptly fired her. He had never liked
her in fact, and he didn't even have the decency to fire her in
person: he sent her a letter whilst she was at a conference in Bonn.
She had always said that when she'd have some spare time, she would
like to write a book about Léon Motchane and the institute. A short
while after she got fired, she made up her mind to heal her
humiliation and at the same time to lead this long-time project. The
mathematicians at IHES, most of whom were sorry to see her go, offered
her as a departing present a Macintosh computer (quite a nice gift in
fact, because at this time it cost a bit more than $4000). With it,
she wrote this book in which she kills the new Director (even though
her character is not the actual murderer in the book).
I really liked this book, even though it's not her best literary work.
But I read it with the real names and since I knew most of the characters in
real life, I found it very entertaining. She worked long hours and tried to
suppress all the petty things that her anger and frustration at the time
might have shown. I hope she doesn't really come out as a hateful
secretary, as you mentioned in your site.
"Dis-moi qui tu aimes" (*) was indeed a small success for a first
book. Encouraged by this, she kept on writing and she's about to
publish her fourth novel. The third one, "L'enfant d'outre-tombe", is
definitely the best she has yet produced. It has won the "Prix
Bretagne". She also adapts older books and folk stories for children
(one of her books for children also received a prize), and she gives
lectures in Brittany where she has retired.
Voila ! I hope I didn't take too much of your time. It's just that I
wanted to set the record straight.
(*) This title was devised by the publisher. Nicole's original title was
"Echec et Maths", which I find a much better title.
Dear Professor Kasman,
Eric Maldague let me know about your correspondence concerning my book
"Dis-moi que tu aimes". Actually I discovered your website simultaneously to
Eric and was also surprised to have my book reviewed in [the US].
I completely agree with what Eric said and I just want to thank you for
having completed your notice. I would like to add that this book was
prefaced by Jacques Dixmier [a very famous French mathematician, winner of the 1993 Steele prize for his work in algebra and operator theory - ak].
"Dis-moi qui tu aimes" is out of print and the publisher decided not to
reprint it. I got back the right to have it published somewhere else but I
did not yet take the time to solve the question. [Note: As described
above, the original publisher did decide to republish it, under the
new title -ak]
Good news! I have heard from Mary Turner that she is currently
translating this novel into English and is searching for a publisher. So,
it may not be long before this mathematical mystery reaches a wider
Ce roman raconte l'histoire d'une enquête sur un meurtre commis dans un institut mathématique en France.
La première chose qui étonne en lisant ce livre, c’est à quel point l'auteur est capable de bien décrire le milieu mathématique. Étant moi-même un mathématicien, j'ai reconnu les traits de caractères de plusieurs de mes collègues. J'ai été ravi de lire un roman dont l'histoire se passe dans un monde que je connais bien. Je dirais donc que le contenu mathématique en tant que tel n’est pas très élevé mais que la description faite par Margot Bruyère des mathématiciens est d'une exactitude impressionnante.
On pourrait caractériser cette histoire, selon moi, en affirmant que c'est un livre qu'Agatha Christie aurait pu écrire si elle avait eu une connaissance profonde du milieu mathématique. Je dois cependant ajouter que la qualité de l'écriture est bien plus grande chez Margot Bruyère que chez Agatha Christie.
En conclusion, je recommande ce livre à tout mathématicien intéressé de voir comment leur monde est vu de l'extérieur. Je recommande aussi ce livre à tout amateur de roman policier qui voudrait lire une histoire se passant dans un environnement inhabituel.