Monday, 8 July 2002

Granta 74 & Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s conjecture

Listening to:

Bach, toccata and fugue in D minor, BWV 565. This work is traditionally played on the organ, and is very famous in that setting. Nonetheless, there's apparently lots of evidence to suggest that it was originally written for violin, and I'm listening to a reconstructed version for violin now.

Just read:

Granta 74: confessions of a middle-aged Ecstasy eater (contents)

This issue of the magazine is a good one. I read and enjoyed almost all of it. There are definitely no stinkers here. The title piece is one of the weakest parts of the issue. It's written in an awful style, and just made me think the anonymous author was pretentious. Nonetheless, he is interesting on the effects of Ecstasy, and waxes lyrical about how it saved his and his son’s lives. Andrew Brown's real-life account of a fishing obsession in Sweden is much more readable. His descriptions of fishing, dealing with Swedish winters, and the contrasts with England are all interesting and well-written. David Feuer's description of a stint as a psychiatrist tending to a Hasidic community in New York is also very good.

Haruki Murakami’s short story, Thailand was the best of the fiction: it presented an only-slightly skewed perspective on something that was superficially entirely prosaic. Somehow, everything was embued with a distantly surreal tone.

Christophe de Baillague’s description of the political situation in Iran, at least in as much as it pertains to the situation of one journalist (now in prison), was very interesting. It will be fascinating to see how Iran evolves over the next few years. It really does appear to be a country that might go in any number of different directions. (Like South Africa, say.)

Apostolis Doxiadis, Uncle Petros and Golbach’s Conjecture.

This novel is the story of mysterious Uncle Petros, told from a nephew’s point of view. The rest of the family dismisses Petros as a failure, but refuses to explain why. Given the title, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that Petros is a mathematician, one who spent his career (now over) trying to prove Goldbach’s Conjecture. The nephew attempts to find out what happened in the uncle's life, and what results is the engaging chronicle of a mathematician's career. At one point, it sounds as if the author is just name-dropping (Turing, Gödel, Hardy, Littlewood and Ramanujam), but these people are all relevant, and though the standard mathematical folk-lore is recycled, the novel presents the world of research and the search for proofs very appealingly.

To read next:

John Keay, The great arc.