A few days ago I learnt from the Guardian of the death of the novelist and critic Gilbert Adair. I was saddened by this, partly because I have hugely enjoyed his writing (though I’m glad to say that I haven’t read his entire oeuvre, so there are still treats in store) and partly because I knew him. The title of this post is a pun of a kind I hope he would have approved of: our interactions were mostly by email, but one can also take the “pen” to mean “almost” (as in “peninsula”), which is why I used a hyphen. We met a couple of times, and might have become proper friends if I had been less socially lazy. It turns out that he had a stroke a year ago, but I didn’t hear about it, so his death just over a week ago came as a surprise and leaves me regretting that I didn’t see more of him while I had the chance.
Since there’s nothing I can do about that, I thought that I’d try to use this blog as an outlet for the resulting feeling of loss, which is out of proportion to the amount that I actually had to do with him. Or perhaps it isn’t, since the very fact that I didn’t see him much is part of what now bothers me. It is also why I had no idea that my last contact with him might be my last, and why his death now seems a bit unreal.
A maths blog is not a completely inappropriate place to write about him, because I met him through mathematics and it was because of mathematics, which fascinated him, that that initial meeting led to a couple of further meetings. A secondary purpose of this post is to recommend his books, which are extremely clever in a way that many mathematicians would like. I’ll describe some of them as I go along.