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The Alice Network (2017)
Kate Quinn

Contributed by John Cobb

Set in the aftermath of World War II, The Alice Network follows a Bennington College sophomore Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair on an impromptu search for her cherished cousin Rose. While fleeing the wishes of her oppressive high-society mother, who brought Charlie to Europe to deal with her unwanted pregnancy, Charlie's search leads her to Eve Gardiner. Eve, another point of view character, is a retired female spy who worked within a large spy network in France made up of women called the Alice Network during World War I (which actually existed). These two women are then set on a mission for redemption and truth alongside a charming Scottish love interest.

Among the traits that paint Charlie as unusual among the posh American socialites is her obsession with math in a time when social norms called for demure women to attend college to find husbands. She's a math major, a fact which you are constantly reminded of by her cheesy and forced life arithmetic:

(quoted from The Alice Network)

“one college sophomore minus one small encumbrance, divided by six months' passage of time, multiplied by ten Paris frocks and a new haircut will not magically equal one restored reputation.”

(quoted from The Alice Network)

"The easiest equation in the world, it always ended up: man + woman = zero"

(quoted from The Alice Network)

"A Yank in a black dress plus a Scotsman in a jacket, multiplied by a summer night and a packet of sandwiches, divided by an awkward silence and the fact that the Yank had a pregnant belly. I didn't know how that equation came out, what it equaled."

I can only think that Quinn imagines that mathematicians use math analogies to make sense of situations, even when they are meaningless.

Charlie is often made out to be a mathematical whiz by her ability to calculate tips and “tot up bills faster than an adding machine” to the awe of onlookers. Although Charlie's mathematical knowledge might be appropriate for the second year at a women's college (finishing school?) in the 40's whose math department consisted of only two professors in 1976, other characters don't even recognize the Pythagorean theorem. Perhaps its plausible that Charlie or any of the characters never encountered any math beyond arithmetic, but I lean towards thinking that this representation comes from a common assumption that success in mathematics comes from being able to do fast calculations.

Despite Charlie equating most situations to “solv[ing] for X”, mathematics plays no major role on the plot. The Alice Network provides an occasionally inconsistent yet interesting view on misogyny in both time periods, especially its role in the real-life Alice Network. Eve's storyline is by far the highlight and coincidentally does not contain any math.

Contributed by Lee Bradley

Here are a few more quotes from The Alice Network.

pg. 6-7

(quoted from The Alice Network)

Life is not a math problem Charlotte.

If it was, I'd have been a lot better at it. I'd often wish I could work out people as easily as I did arithmetic: simply break them down to their common denominators and solve. Numbers didn't lie and there was always an answer, and the answer was either right or wrong. Simple. But nothing in life was simple, and there was no answer here to solve for. There was just the mess that was Charlie St. Clair, sitting at a table with her mother, with whom she had no common denominator.

pg. 162

(quoted from The Alice Network)

That was a bit of math all women understood: how a wedding ring plus a premature baby still magically equaled respectability.

pg. 188

(quoted from The Alice Network)

Do you know what that is? asked the Little Problem. Break it down like an equation. Solve for X. X = brave.

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Works Similar to The Alice Network
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
  2. The Company of Strangers by Robert Wilson
  3. Miss Havilland by Gay Daly
  4. The Amber Shadows by Lucy Ribchester
  5. The Number of Love (The Codebreakers) by Roseanna M. White
  6. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  7. Enigma by Robert Harris / Tom Stoppard
  8. Sekret Enigmy by Roman Wionczek
  9. En busca de Klingsor (In Search of Klingsor) by Jorge Volpi
  10. The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum (director) / Graham Moore (screenplay)
Ratings for The Alice Network:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreHistorical Fiction, Adventure/Espionage,
MotifWar, Female Mathematicians,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)