The Three Body Problem

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14 Ratings

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2 out of 5 stars
By Philadelphus on 05-05-08

Anachronistic and implausible

Two Cambridge mathematics dons wish to dine together in 1888. Where do they go? To the Irish Pub. Need I say more?

None of the many dons seems to have college rooms, they never go to Hall and all in all the picture of Cambridge academic life is completely wrong even for modern times, let alone 120 years ago. There are also many things which simply aren't anywhere in Victorian England. The mystery has a clever mathematical foundation, but isn't intriguing enough to sustain interest in an audiobook given the distance created by the implausibiltiy of the setting.

The author makes it worse by presenting the novel solely in the form of letters from the heroine to her twin sister. She therefore remembers in detail everything said, no matter how complex, though she manages to live for a year in Cambridge without knowing that there were two Cambridge colleges for women at that date. (This is really clumsy writing. It would have been perfectly possible to mention it as something the heroine already knows.)

The author is apparently an academic mathematician, though where I know not. Things such as drinking whisky before eating, looking in 'store' windows and so forth suggest a North American. If so, the tone of voice in which the heroine speaks is actually pretty good. If not, should have done better. You might manage to skip through it all in print format. Only attempt the audiobook if you don't know or don't care about period authenticity. I gave up on it after two hours' worth.

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10 of 12 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Michael on 07-27-09


Entertaining 1880s' academic mystery told by Vanessa Duncan, an engagingly naive but tenacious young schoolmistress, whose growing friendship with the shy mathematics fellow in the flat upstairs is rudely interrupted by his involvement in the murders of three colleagues - innocent involvement in her view, definitely guilty involvement in the eyes of the police. Her race to save him from the gallows takes her 'halfway across Europe', as they used to say in the best Victorian adventure tales. And like the best Victorians, Vanessa is a born letter-writer, rattling off voluminous nightly descriptions of the day's doings to her stay-at-home sister. Are these word-perfect recollections impossibly detailed? Yes, of course they are: that's part of the author's gentle guying of past literary conventions. Is her portrait of life in Victorian Cambridge wholly accurate? I doubt it, but as I wasn't there, I couldn't care less: it's perfectly convincing on its own terms, which are those of a light-hearted romantic mystery.
Audio is a great medium for stories told in letters - given the right reader. Liz Hollis is certainly that, her warm voice making Vanessa a very sympathetic heroine and also conjuring up a host of other characters of varying age, sex, class and nationality. All in all, great fun!

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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