A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin.


About the Book

The flame of genius scorches every generation it touches.
Following a lonely upbringing in the woods of northern Michigan, Milo Andret enrols as a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley, where the faculty is the first to recognize that the young man’s childhood solitude has created a prodigiously unusual mind. Yet with Milo’s great gifts come great risks, and California in the seventies is rife with temptation. The research he begins at Berkeley will make him a legend; the woman, and the rival he meets, will haunt him forever. For it soon becomes clear that Milo’s brilliance is linked to a dark need that ultimately threatens to destroy not only his work and his marriage, but the lives of all his children, as well.
A Doubter’s Almanac is at once a captivatingly virtuoso illustration of the powers of the mind and a deeply moving exploration of the nature of love, ambition and genius. It is a novel of flawed characters and unreachable dreams, of bonds that tie and passions that destroy; a major work of dazzling and seductive beauty from one of our foremost writers.

My Review

My first book of 2017 is a completely different type of book to what I usually read. It is also by an author that I have never read before.
Milo is a genius, a mathematician whose life is governed by trying to solve mathematical problems and be the first to do so. There is a lot of focus on mathematics in the novel and all of it was beyond my comprehension. However, the story gripped me enough to carry on reading.
He is a troubled person. There are many words you can use to describe him. Abusive, aggressive, bullying, condescending, critical, impatient, selfish and unforgiving are just a few. He is also a loner, has been from an early age and his inability to mix with people accounts for many of his faults.
Most of the emphasis on mathematics occurs in part one, it is present in part two but the narrative here switches from Milo to his son Hans. The story was much easier to read in bigger chunks in part two, probably with there being more of a story and it being told by a more likeable person.
The author demonstrates how a genius can be in every generation but also an addict and sometimes they are linked. The consequences of addiction from both characters was quite upsetting to read, especially the scenes that concerned Milo. What became evident towards the end of the novel was that despite all of Milo’s faults he was also loyal and loving but probably due to his own isolated childhood completely useless at showing it.
I loved the female characters in the novel. Mom, Audra and Paulie were all fantastic, warm, humorous, patient and forgiving people. I felt that they all gave the novel its depth and humility. I also liked the chapter headings, I’ve never read any like them before. ‘ You can’t comb the hair on a coconut’ is a firm favourite.
I did find the mathematics slightly off putting but the story and the female characters more than compensated and I will look out for Ethan Canin’s previous novels.