When someone mentions the City of Cambridge you probably think of an iconic building, its four corners stretching out of the once medieval mud and into the arms of everlasting heaven, its white limestone yearning into eternity… and without even knowing exactly what ephemeral joys or permanent wonders the vision brings to mind, it s a safe bet that the one thought which doesn t occur to you is that the Chapel might not be there by Christmas.
Theo (Theophilus Ambrose Fitzwilliam Wedderburn to his friends) is a Junior Research Fellow in Number Theory. Prompted by a supervisee to demonstrate how to trace the provenance of bitcoins, Theo happens across a shocking revelation, with embarrassing ramifications for the whole University. Meanwhile he is being stalked unseen by someone from his childhood. To his annoyance, Theo falls for a cheap con… and discovers a horror set not only to rock the very seat of power itself but to change the face of Cambridge and its beautifully iconic image for ever.
I am thrilled to be one of the blogs opening up the tour for An Elegant Solution by Anne Atkins today. Huge thanks to the author and publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially, and to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group for my place on the tour.
This is one of those very rare and delightful books that come out of nowhere and take you by surprise by being something totally different to what you expected and affecting you in ways you never saw coming. I’ll be honest, the reason I signed up for this blog tour was purely because I have an odd obsession with books set in and around universities, which was sparked in my youth by reading Dorothy L. Sayer’s Gaudy Night, still one of my favourite book of all time. I had no real idea what to expect from the story, and what actually appeared between the covers of this book was a beautiful revelation.
This wasn’t immediately apparent when I started the book. In fact, I started it twice because the opening chapter did not grip me the first time around. However, on my second attempt I read a little further and I had never been so glad that I persisted with a book because, once I got into it, I was gripped, charmed and profoundly moved by the characters, the story, the setting and the underlying themes of this book in a way that I never saw coming and that has stayed with me long after I closed the back cover. I have actually never read anything quite like it in the way it blends the plot, which could be something out of a flashy thriller, with a deeply poetic and affecting characterisation of living with autism and a developing relationship, none of which ends how you expect. I can’t repeat enough just how much this book surprised and delighted me, possibly more than anything else I have read this year.
If, like me, you are drawn to pick up this book because of the setting of Cambridge University, you will not be disappointed. The author does a wonderful job of immersing the reader in the feel and life of the city and the hallowed halls of the University. It gives the academic voyeur a tantalising peek into the world of this esteemed institution and its esoteric rituals, a world that most of us will never experience outside the pages of a novel. She makes the city and the university central to the book, so that the delicious descriptions of that world and environs are not awkwardly and unnecessarily tagged on to the plot, dragging it down, but are essential to its workings. It is very cleverly and seamlessly done and allowed me to revel in the setting without being pulled from the story.
I did worry to begin with that the plot itself was not only a little outlandish, but that it was also going to be too complicated for me to follow, as someone who knows very little about cryptocurrency and cares even less. I was very wrong on this front. The author does a great job of making sure that there is not too much technical information in the book and, what is there, is just enough and clearly explained to enable the bitcoin dunce to follow what is going on and understand how it propels the story. The book is very unusual in the way that the thriller aspect of the book felt more like the sub-plot, there to showcase the characters and the personal issues that beset them, rather than the main point of the book. A thriller for people who want a bit more food for the brain. Weirdly, despite the grand finale, it also didn’t feel like an OTT, bang bang thriller, with things whamming at you constantly. As I said earlier, I have never read anything quite like it, which is no mean feat given the volume of books and the wide genres I read in.
All of that being said, the characters are what drive this book and what made me fall irrevocably in love with it. The two main players, Theo and Charlotte, were fully rounded people that I immediately fell for and I was rooting for from the beginning. The exploration of Charlotte’s complex family dynamic and Theo’s autism were done so lovingly and sympathetically that they may me feel deeply involved in their development and I felt genuine joy and pain for both of them as their stories unravelled. The characterisation is done with great understanding, and gave a very different view of autism to me than I have read before. It is obviously an issue very personal and important to the author, and this came across in the pages. At the end of the book, I was yearning for a particular outcome and, whilst it did not end as expected, it left me feeling happy and hopeful … and making up my own ideas for what happens to the characters after the narration ends. The fact I cared enough to spend a deal of time thinking about this is testament to how much the story touched me.
It is not often these days that a book comes out of nowhere and really surprises me and touches my soul. This is one of those books. I cannot tell you how much I loved it, I hope it reached the wide audience it deserves.
An Elegant Solution is out now in ebook and physical formats and you can get a copy here.
To get some alternative reviews of the book from my marvellous blogger colleagues, please visit the blogs listed below:
About the Author
Anne Atkins is a well-known English broadcaster and journalist, and regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. She took an involuntary, and long, break from writing fiction when her son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, their daughter repeatedly hospitalized with a severe illness, and finally the family was made homeless.. Thankfully those dark days are now behind her and she and her husband Shaun along with some of her children now live happily in Bedford, England.
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