a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

The Girl in the Painting (2020)
Tea Cooper

Jane Piper and Elizabeth Quinn are both interested in mathematics in this historical fiction novel which bounces back and forth between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Quinn arrives in Australia as a little girl during the gold rush and helps her older brother Michael run the auction house that their parents started in a remote "boom town". Her interest in math primarily revolves around the use of an abacus which she learns from her romantic interest, a Chinese man who works for Michael.

Jane Piper is a young orphan who is obsessed with math, as is made obvious when a (now middle-aged) Michael Quinn interviews her:

(quoted from The Girl in the Painting)

"Now, Jane, how old are you?"

Not so bad a start, she could manage that. "I've been here for nine years, three months, one hour, and twenty-three minutes. Maybe twenty-seven, the breakfast bell was close to three and a half minutes late." And in all that time, no one had claimed her. "See, that's how long ago I was dropped off on the doorstep, in the dead of night." Three thousand, three hundred, and seventy-eight days ago.


"Your mother or father? You've no idea?"

"No, sir. None at all." She sat up a little straighter.

"Your aptitude with numbers must have come from somewhere."

Aptitude. What was that? Was it good or bad? "I don't know nothing about my aptitude, sir."

"My mistake. Let me try again." He picked up the sheaf of papers from the desk and flicked through them. The sun glinted on the stained glass window behind him. So many delicious shapes and such perfect symmetry: six diamonds, four rhombi, sixty-two perfect small green squares, and equal number of rectangles...


The patterns blurred. "Yes, sir."


"...No one else has achieved such a remarkable score. not even in the senior class. Congratulations!"

She sat back down on the chair and gave Mr. Quinn her biggest smile. "I like numbers, sir. See, they don't lie, sir. Not like people. There's only right and wrong, no in-betweens."

"An excellent summary. You and my sister would get along just fine. Perhaps you'd like to meet her, come to tea."

Jane does come to tea and is adopted by "Uncle Michael and Aunt Elizabeth". Her mathematical nature continues to manifest itself throughout the book, but is not essential to the plot.

The plot involves the mysterious reaction that Elizabeth Quinn has to an exhibition of paintings. (She essentially collapses on the floor saying "G'woam" over and over again.) Jane helps to figure out the cause. However, aside from the fact that Jane realizes how serious the problem is when she notices an error Elizabeth made in her accounting, there is nothing particularly mathematical about that aspect of the story.

The mathematical abilities and interests of the two female protagonists are portrayed in a familiar way that I have come to think of as cliché in fiction. For example, it squeezes in a discussion of the Fibonacci sequence and its connections to both nature and art. It is a nicely written novel that keeps the reader guessing about what secrets in her own past Elizabeth is hiding from. However, as mathematical fiction, it really does not break any new ground.

I'm a bit confused about when this book was first published. It certainly became available in the USA only in 2021, but depending on where I look I see either 2019 or 2020 listed as the date of its original publication in Australia. Hopefully, that uncertainty doesn't matter much to you, but I'm sure that both Jane Piper and Elizabeth Quinn would find it quite annoying!

More information about this work can be found at
(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 Girl in the Painting
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Story of Yung Chang by Ernest Bramah (Ernest Bramah Smith)
  2. Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins
  3. The Young Mathematician by Anonymous
  4. Miss Havilland by Gay Daly
  5. A Universe of Sufficient Size by Miriam Sved
  6. The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
  7. The Capacity for Infinite Happiness by Alexis von Konigslow
  8. Continuums by Robert Carr
  9. V2: A Novel of World War II by Robert Harris
  10. The Nesting Dolls by Alina Adams
Ratings for The Girl in the Painting:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction,
MotifFemale Mathematicians, Romance,
TopicMathematical Finance,

Home All New Browse Search About

Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)