The Mathematics of Love, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


From the Suffolk countryside to the old Basque towns of Spain, Emma Darwin's unforgettable debut tells the astoundingly moving story of Stephen, a veteran of Waterloo, whose suffering and secret lost happiness is transformed by love.

Gorgeously written, fascinating and engrossing, THE MATHEMATICS OF LOVE is a sexy, heartbreaking, glorious novel by a major new literary star.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9780755330645

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

A well-crafted novel that switches between England and post-Napoleonic Europe of 1819, and the heatwave summer of 1979, the two segments sharing the location of Kersey Hall, Stephen Fairhurst’s Regency home and a temporary refuge for modern-day teenaged Anna, along with themes of loss, abandonment, and violence. Fairhurst is trying to rebuild his life after a war which has left him crippled, but finds little in English country society to keep him there; his travels into Europe bring him deeper understanding of himself and, eventually, lead him to confront a vital piece of his past. Anna has been dumped on an uncle she barely knows while her mother tries to sort out yet another new life for them, only to find herself defending her uncle’s unacknowledged child from their crazed, bitter, violent grandmother. She finds respite and consolation with the exotic European photo-journalists who rent the old stables next door, but this ends in grief when she finds herself falling in love with the much-older Theo. And then there are the old letters she’s given to read – letters from the long-dead Stephen Fairhurst.A good book; just, somehow, not mammothly endearing. The acknowledgement page at the end tells us that it was written for the author’s MPhil in Writing at the University of Glamorgan, and this may account for the slightly impersonal feel.

Review by
Summary: In the first of two interweaving story lines, it is 1819 and Major Stephen Fairhurst is trying to rebuild his life as a civilian after sacrificing so much in the Napoleonic wars. He has inherited Kersey Hall, his family estate, and he soon meets Lucy Durward, a bright and opinionated young lady with whom he develops a correspondence and friendship. However, as well-matched as they are, the horrors of war will not let him be, and the secrets in his past threaten to destroy any small peace he might build for himself.In the summer of 1976, fifteen-year-old Anna Ware has been sent by her flighty mother to stay with her uncle at Kersey, which since the time of Stephen has become a school. Anna is lonely and bored - there's nothing much to do for a teenager who's used to the activity of London, and the only people around to talk to are her alcoholic and mentally unstable grandmother, and Cecil, a small boy who mostly runs wild. Then Anna meets Eva and Theo, two photographers who live nearby, and their eccentric ways open Anna's eyes to a new way of seeing the world... but that broader scope is not without its costs.Review: I knew, from reading Emma Darwin's A Secret Alchemy last summer, that Darwin's writing required a substantial input of both time and attention to be worthwhile, but if you can make that investment, the payoff is more than worthwhile. I knew that, but somehow it completely slipped my mind when I picked up this book from my TBR pile. I have recently been busy and rather stressed, and just have not had the mental energy nor the three-hour-blocks of reading time that I think this book deserved. As a result this book took me forever to finish - almost three times longer than I would have predicted given its size - but not through any fault of its own.When I was able to devote some time and energy to this book, it was absolutely lovely. It was full of things that I enjoy - historical fiction! Napoleonic wars! Intertwining storylines! 19th century courtship! Photography! All of it, too, is rendered in Darwin's exquisite prose. She's equally adept at evoking the horror of a battlefield and the delicate tension of a sitting room and the close atmosphere of a darkroom pungent with developer, and her tone shifts effortlessly to match her time - not always an easy feat in a book with two first-person narrators. The plot(s) and characters are equally well-done; I thought Stephen's story in particular was excellent in the way that it slowly unfurled, carefully drawing the reader in with bits of accumulating information about what had happened to him... much like the gradual appearance of a photographic print in its chemical bath. The layers of meaning and metaphor present here are remarkable for a first novel, and Darwin's writing is mature enough to leave them mostly below the surface, so that the reader has to uncover them for herself.Although the themes of Stephen's and Anna's stories parallel and intertwine beautifully, the actual plots are less interconnected. They are living in the same place, and Anna reads some of Stephen's letters to Lucy, but neither of these really affect either story in a material way. There are some additional elements of a magical realism nature - Cecil and Anna having dreams that seem drawn from Stephen's memories, Stephen catching a glimpse of Cecil in the fields around the house - that I thought were one of the weaker elements of the story. I don't have a problem with Gothic-y ghosts and imprinted memories and different periods of time overlapping, that's fine - I've read plenty of books that do that well. However, if you're going to include things like that, I feel like you really need to commit to it and embrace it fully - which Darwin didn't, and so the nightmares and the visions wind up not very well explained and sort of superfluous.Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book - despite my non-existent attention span, I never wished I was reading something else, and when I was able to get into it, I was richly rewarded with a lovely story, beautifully told. 4 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: I would give this to readers of historical fiction who like their novels well-written, literary, and mature, and are willing to put some effort into their reading.
Review by

This book was chosen by my work book club for our March 2010 read. It is broken into two stories from two different time periods. One time period is the early 1800s just after the Battle of Waterloo. Stephen Fairhurst, a career soldier, lost a leg at the battle. As a result he was without a career and low on money. He worked as a guide to the battlefield at Waterloo and also in Spain where he had spent some time. Then he received notice that he had inherited a large and successful estate from his cousin. Trying to establish a normal life he is introduced to a young widow. The widow rejects his suit, because of his injury, but he has a friendship with her sister, Lucy.The other timeline is modern and centres on a teenage girl, Anna Ware, who has come to live with her uncle at the home Stephen Fairhurst had inherited. Anna becomes friends with the couple next door who are photographers. Through them she meets someone who gives her the letters that Stephen and Lucy exchanged. Anna escapes her abusive grandmother and drunken uncle through the letters and through her work with the couple next door. A young boy, who may be her uncle's son, travels between the stories. The modern story wasn't particularly successful and the device of the young boy was poorly done. However, the historical story was quite interesting and therefore redeemed the book in my mind.