Thursday, February 1, 2018

Enchantress of Numbers

Title:  Enchantress of Numbers:  A Novel of Ada Lovelace
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2017. 444 pages.
ISBN:  1101985208 / 978-1101985205

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A piteous mewling jolts Lady Anabella Byron from her melancholy contemplation of the fire fading to embers though the evening is still young."

Favorite Quote:  "Passion fades where once it burned brightly, but love, real love, can grow where only friendship was before."

Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countless of Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron, daughter of poet and nobleman Lord Byron. She was, in fact, his only legitimate child born out a marriage that lasted only until Ada was a few months old. Her parents separated shortly after her birth, and Ada Lovelace never had a chance to know her father.

Ada Lovelace's disputed claim to fame is her contribution to the filed of mathematics and computer science. Some credit her with being the world's first computer programmer; others discount her contribution to the work of Charles Babbage and his analytical engine.

Clearly, two stories are at play here. One is the story of the Byron's doomed marriage and its impact on the entire life of Ada Lovelace. The other is the story of Ada Lovelace, a pioneer as a female scientist and mathematician in a 1800s England.

I begin the book expecting the second story. Based on the title, I expect to the read the story of the woman of science and her pioneering accomplishments in the sciences. Quickly, I am disabused of this notion for the first part of the book is before Ada's birth; it is the story of her mother Annabelle and how she comes to marry and then separate from Lord Byron. It sets the foundation for Ada's upbringing.

This book is very clearly the first storyline. It is the story of Ada's family life, in particular her relationship with her mother. At first, this is disappointing for the book is not the story I am expecting. However, I decide to let go of preconceptions and attempt to appreciate the story for what it is - family, relationships, a child growing up, and a woman coming of age.

For that story, though, the book is too detailed and at times seemingly repetitive. In a nutshell, Ada's mother seeks to ensure that Ada will not fall prey to the madness she feels Lord Byron suffers from. Yet, at the same time, she is content to leave Ada in the care of her grandparents and various governesses. Ada has a rather lonely and sad childhood. That is the story that is told in various instances and various iterations through more than half of the book. I feel for Ada the child but don't need a couple of hundred pages to get there.

The second half of the book correspondingly feels rushed and not completely developed. For example, Ada makes a comment at one point of marriage being as constraining as her mother's control. However, that is never explored. At point, it seems Ada struggles with post-partum depression, but that too seems told in passing. The scientific contributions of Ada's life almost becomes incidental to the story.

What makes the book even more challenging is after the first section about the Byron's marriage, the book switches to a first person narrative from Ada's perspective. Mind you, the "perspective" begins with her infancy. The book addresses the fact that these are collected memories, but at the same time, it is just an odd construct. The first person narrative does not quite work in this situation. Regardless, the book is an interesting tale of a poet's daughter who grew up to be a mathematician.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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