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The Weight of Numbers

Overview

The Weight of Numbers describes the metamorphosis of three people: Anthony Burden, a mathematical genius destroyed by the beauty of numbers; Saul Cogan, transformed from prankster idealist to trafficker in the poor and dispossessed; and Stacey Chavez, ex-teenage celebrity and mediocre performance artist, hungry for fame and starved of love. All are haunted by Nick Jinks, a malevolent curse of a man who seems to be everywhere at once. As a grid of connections emerge between a dusty philosophical society in London ...

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The Weight of Numbers

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Overview

The Weight of Numbers describes the metamorphosis of three people: Anthony Burden, a mathematical genius destroyed by the beauty of numbers; Saul Cogan, transformed from prankster idealist to trafficker in the poor and dispossessed; and Stacey Chavez, ex-teenage celebrity and mediocre performance artist, hungry for fame and starved of love. All are haunted by Nick Jinks, a malevolent curse of a man who seems to be everywhere at once. As a grid of connections emerge between a dusty philosophical society in London and an African revolution, between international container shipping and celebrity-hosted exposés on the problems of the Third World—this novel sends the specters of the Baby Boom’s liberal revolutions floating into the unreal estate of globalization and media overload—with a deadly payoff.

The Weight of Numbers is an artful and deadly novel that traces the secret histories and paranoid fantasies of our culture into a future globalized in ways both liberating and hideous, full of information and empty of meaning. Simon Ings has delivered a storytelling tour de force that will alter some of your most cherished beliefs.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Math whiz Anthony Burden has anonymous alley sex at the height of the London blitz, which produces Saul Cogan, an eventual jaded-idealist-turned-human-trafficker. The botched childhood abduction of Stacey Chavez-eventually an epileptic, anorexic supermodel-obliquely links the three, as does a gift encyclopedia set rigged with a bomb to assassinate a Mozambique revolutionary. That much one is able to confirm in Ings's deceptively readable, dizzyingly constructed novel: the sentences are conventional, but the things they describe are not, and abrupt shifts in time and setting (Paris; London; Mozambique; Cape Canaveral, Fla.; etc.) are even more jarring. Through it all, Anthony struggles with madness, marriage and sexual identity; Stacey battles illness and sudden stardom; and Saul drifts through the world as "a ghost in the globalized machine." Ings, a London-based science fiction novelist, offers further clues to their common story in the form of adventurer Nick Jinks, who haunts the three like Zelig. This Pynchon-on-speed romp relies heavily on coincidence and trivia-Anthony and Stacey seem to be crushed by the weight of history, self-destruction and destiny, while antiheroes Nick and Saul skirt history's edges-yet Ings's mad, mad world is held together to the very last page by humor, vivid depictions and a deeply compelling emotional core. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this latest from British novelist/science writer Ings, fictional characters intermingle with historical ones through the major events of the last century, such as World War II, the U.S.-Soviet space race, the anti-apartheid movement and the bloody civil wars in Africa, the development of psychiatric therapies, and the dawn of telecommunications. Their stories link up through a shadowy character sometimes known as Nick Jinks, whose life on the run and brushes with fame make him seem a more sinister version of Forrest Gump. Among the characters who cross paths with Jinks are Kathleen, whose mathematical talents languish when she is overlooked for war work and who ends up an unhappy housewife in the more prosperous decades that follow; Deborah, a childhood kidnap victim who remains traumatized by her past; and her daughter, Stacey, an anorexic performance artist who grows up unaware of her mother's terrible secrets. A Ragtimefor the millennium, this is a clever novel, though the parts are ultimately more striking than the whole. For most public libraries.
—Barbara Love
Kirkus Reviews
Three continents, 60 years and what feels like countless characters define this dense novel about politics, science and morals. If that seems like too much, you're right, it is. Ings, a British science journalist and science-fiction writer, bounces madly from the London blitz to the moon landing to our celebrity-soaked present day, but he never stays in one place long enough to make a reader feel caught up in the swim of history. And the characters just keep coming: There's Saul Cogan, an employee at a London philosophical society who gets drawn into a circle of revolutionaries in Mozambique; Stacey Chavez, a B-list actress whose stepfather is a business partner of Nick Jinks, who deals in human trafficking; Anthony Burden, a supposedly brilliant mathematician who's prone to emotional breakdowns and stuck in a failed marriage while living on an Israeli kibbutz; and, somewhat inexplicably, Jim Lovell, the commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, who runs a tony restaurant outside Chicago. Ings tries to connect the disparate timelines and characters, but unlike similarly ambitious novels like Don DeLillo's Underworld or David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, this one never coheres into the illuminating vision of geopolitical chaos that the author intended to create. But though the book's pleasures are only intermittent, they do exist: Ings is a graceful writer, and he's on firm footing in the sections about Cogan's involvement in London's late-'60s revolutionary foment, and his descriptions of urban pranksters, squatters and activists of both the peace-and-love and violent varieties are informed and engaging. Indeed, it's obvious that Ings would have been much better served choosing aparticular moment and spending time with it, instead of taking this ocean-wide, foot-deep approach. Reading the book is like flipping through 500 channels without stopping-lots of color and glimpses of interesting moments, but little coheres.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802170309
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/2007
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

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