Jean Rouaud's prize-winning first novel Les champs d'honneur (1990) begins thus:
C'etait la loi des series en somme, martingale triste dont nous decouvrions soudain le secret--un secret evente depuis la nuit des temps mais a chaque fois recouvert et qui, brutalement revele, martele, nous laissait stupides, abrutis de chagrin.
But just what is this "series en somme", and what is a mathematical term doing in the first line of a best-selling novel? And what about martingale? Isn't that that complicated thing from probability theory that I never did understand? But why would a probabilistic construct be described as "triste" (sad)?
Unfortunately the English translation by Ralph Manheim provides few clues to this mystery--
So it was simply that these things always run in series, in dreary compliance with a system whose secret workings we were now suddenly discovering. An open secret, to be sure, from the very start. But each time so well covered over that now, when it burst upon us once again, it hit us like a hammer, leaving us dazed, stunned with grief.--save perhaps that American readers are not yet ready for advanced mathematics.
Can you solve the mystery? Come by and give your best guess. Should you find it difficult, you can always munch on one of Jeff's best-selling cookies, critically acclaimed for their powers of inspiration.
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