The third “branch” of Jacques Roubaud’s epic, Proustian Great Fire of London
: is also an excellent entrance into the series. Adopting math as a career relatively late in his studies, Roubaud here narrates his difficulties both personal and pedagogical, while also investigating the role of mathematics in his life as a remedy to all the messiness of lived experience. “I sought out arithmetic,” he writes, “to protect myself. But from what? At the time, I would probably have replied: from vagueness, from a lack of rigor, from ‘literature.’” But mathematics also provide a refuge from human fears, and from coping, eventually, with tragedies like the death of his wife Alix. As with the previous volumes of The Great Fire of London
: is a riveting and humorous anecdotal memoir as well as a fiendishly digressive fiction about the functions of memory and the written word.
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