The Geometer Lobachevsky opens with a dying man lying in bed. A photograph suddenly appears in his mind’s eye: five men stand ‘on the edge of acres of unworked bog’, among them the dying man, Nikolai Lobachevsky. In what follows, Lobachevsky tells the story behind this image, intimating that it will reveal what has led him to his deathbed. Throughout, the story is told in the present tense: ‘I am standing on the edge of a bog … A gust of wind breaks and rushes at my face.’ It’s a style that mimics the frozen present of a photograph, while also disguising the element of retrospection that is an essential part of this narrative: these events have already happened to our narrator; he knows where his story will end. The story he tells is a kind of deception, and it is the subtle deceptions of language that are this novel’s true subject.
Lobachevsky is a Russian mathematician sent to help an engineer he calls Rhatigan drain a bog in the midlands of Ireland in order to provide peat fuel for a new power station. They met some twenty years before, when Rhatigan, who killed his own brother in the Irish