The Genius in my Basement

The Genius in my Basement
Alexander Morris
Reviewed by Carol Treasure
Fourth Estate
Thu, 01/09/2011

The latest work from the author of Stuart: A Life Backwards, Alexander Masters, is inspired by the real-life "genius" of the title, his landlord, who actually resides in the basement of his building. 

Proclaimed a mathematical prodigy at an early age, Simon Phillips Norton now cuts a bizarre figure. Wild-haired, shunning company and rather partial to a diet of boil-in-the-bag rice, tinned fish and Bombay mix, Simon has spent most of his adulthood working on a mathematical theory nicknamed "The Monster".

Masters, hoping to write a biography of this living legend, pursues Norton through the basement maze created by numerous plastic bags and stacks of things that include years’ worth of shopping receipts, old newspapers and strangely, bus timetables. It is these timetables that finally help unlock the mystery that is Simon Norton.

This is a biography that re-defines the usual definition of the genre. Norton gives little of himself away, but proves to be an endearing subject as Masters attempts to discover what lies behind his eccentricities. Although one is left with a desire to discover more, compensation is adequately provided by the chapters given to "The Monster" which entertainingly and succinctly explain the seemingly incomprehensible concept that has taken over Norton's life.

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