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11) An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears

I've been laid low today by a bug I've been battling since the weekend, and have resorted to the usual therapy of naps, reading and paracetamol. Finished this excellent book, recommended to me by pgmcc and purplepooka and a Christmas present from wwhyte. It's a great story of events swirling around a murder in Oxford in 1663, told by four different narrators, each unreliable in their own way. This is of course the era of Pepys (who makes an obvious but unnamed appearance in the last chapter), and not far off Neal Stephenson either. I wondered to what extent Pears was taking liberties with the historical facts, especially since two of his narrators are actual historical figures; but he has been fairly transparent, with an appendix clarifying which characters are fictional and what real accounts their story is based on.

I don't think he always gets the 17th-century mind-set right, and his portrayals of historical characters don't always ring completely true, but comparisons with Eco and his portrayal of the 14th century in The Name of the Rose are fair: it's a canvas on which the story is painted, not a historical textbook. Having the same events described in four different voices is a brilliantly absorbing device; the story sets the basic human plot - murder, unjust accusal, trial - in the context of the ferment of scientific ideas around the time of the foundation of the Royal Society, the religious hangover from the Revolution, and the immediate post-Restoration political uncertainty. In fact, the novel moves rather impressively from the scientific to the mystical as we shift narrative voices. I guess the one flaw structurally is that we have to accept the fourth and in some ways most fantastic version of the story as being more or less "accurate", having been previously set up with three less reliable accounts (two of which self-consciously display their own unreliability).

Anyway, a good 'un.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed that book!
Jan. 30th, 2008 02:13 pm (UTC)
I am glad you enjoyed the book.

Have you read "Q" by Luther Blisset (otherwise known as the Wu Ming Foundation)?
Jan. 30th, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)
I thought it was an excellent book. I only read it because I was in a short-lived reading group, and I was delighted by it. I loved the overlapping narrative perspectives. I thought the striving to reconcile competing voices mirrored what was happening in England at that time: exhausted by religious persecutions and wars, the seeds of the Enlightenment coming into being as people learned that it was necessary to tolerate differences that couldn't be resolved.

My dad tells me his other books aren't as good.
Jan. 30th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
I read one of them recently. Pretty run-of-the-mill detective stuff set in the art world. I wouldn't say no to another, but I'm not rushing off to complete the set either.
Jan. 30th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
I concur, both in thinking Fingerpost is an excellent book, and that his other stuff, while entertaining enough, isn't something I'll particularly seek out.
Jan. 30th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
This has *absolutely nothing* to do with this post, but I just noticed you joined the "Vote YES to the Lisbon Treaty" group on Facebook. I know it's coming up for a vote, and my basic instinct is "If Nicholas supports it this is a good thing and worth voting in favor of," but I know absolutely nothing about what's on the table with it. I wondered if you might be willing to illuminate me a little, if you've got time.
Jan. 30th, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)
Jan. 30th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC)
Thirded! I'm inclined to vote no to everything on EU political structures until the head of the Commission is directly elected but this may be unrealistic.
Jan. 30th, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I'm not sure I want that. You're leading directly into conflict that way. Having us elect our representatives at national level, who then send people "to Europe" to talk to each other and hammer out agreements seems much more natural to me.
Jan. 31st, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
Why do you think a directly elected Commission head would be a good idea? Presidential systems are rubbish.
Jan. 30th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
Here! Here!

My wife has been doing a lot of research into the treaty and there seems to be a lot in it. Some of the points are worrying and others are well worth having.

I intend reading the document when it's in a state that makes sense. Currently we have sourced a copy that is not just difficult to read because of the content, but because it is full of amendments and pointers to replacement text.

The explanatory information we have found seems to be either internally contradictory or biased; therefore untrustworthy.

The majority of politicians appear to be saying we have to vote for the treaty or else we will suffer dire consequences. Anyone expressing the view that we should vote "No" is being labelled as being from a lunatic fringe. As someone said on Question Time the other night, when politicians from all parties agree on something it's time for the people to worry. (Not a direct quote, but it expresses my caution.)
Jan. 30th, 2008 07:45 pm (UTC)
I love that there are people who feel that whatever Nicholas is in favour of must be a good thing... I hope this power is used for good, and not evil.
Jan. 30th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC)
I am very alarmed...
Jan. 30th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)
I agree that the end is, while not necessarily weak, somewhat confusing after the rest of the book. I'm not sure the mystical turn it takes really suits it. But I'm glad you liked it overall.
Jan. 30th, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
I read and enjoyed it - felt like a cross between Rashomon and Neal Stephenson. Which shouldn't work, but does.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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