literary journalism

Adrian Duncan’s ‘The Geometer Lobachevsky’

Adrian Duncan’s new novel is his fourth book in four years (I’ll have whatever he’s having). His 2019 debut, Love Notes from a German Building Site, which won the inaugural John McGahern Book Prize, was followed by A Sabbatical in Leipzig in 2020 and a short-story collection, Midfield Dynamo, in 2021. From Longford but currently based in Berlin, he is also an artist and filmmaker, with a visual vocabulary that reverberates in his image-rich writing.

The Geometer Lobachevsky is told in flashback from the deathbed of the titular character. Nikolai Lobachevsky is the namesake of his mathematician great-grandfather, renowned for his work on the geometry of curves. Although the younger Lobachevsky has an aptitude for visualising complicated geometrics, he fails to meet his expected potential in maths. “What I lack in my ability now to read numbers I make up for with my ability to read people,” he tells us.

While helping with a land survey in Ireland in the early 1950s, Lobachevsky receives a letter from the Russian Ministry of State Security ordering him back to Leningrad for a “special appointment”. The state had been turning a blind eye to “any small transgressions” due to his expected contribution to mathematics, but after a series of demotions, Lobachevsky worries that the protection may be running out. Fearful of his fate if he goes back, he goes into hiding on a small island in the Shannon estuary, pretending to be Polish, until he feels it safe to return home.

Lobachevsky’s perceived transgressions may include the expression of his sexuality: homosexuality was criminalised under Stalin, with thousands sent to the Gulag for the ‘offence’. He is heartbroken since losing the love of his life, Matvei—a young screenwriter who was killed on a train in mysterious circumstances…

Read the full review online at the Irish Times

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