From the author of the international best seller An Instance of the Fingerpost, Arcadia is an astonishing work of imagination.
Three interlocking worlds. Four people looking for answers. But who controls the future - or the past?
In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is attempting to write a fantasy novel that forgoes the magic of his predecessors, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He finds an unlikely confidante in his quick-witted, inquisitive young neighbor, Rosie. One day, while chasing Lytten's cat, Rosie encounters a doorway in his cellar. She steps through and finds herself in an idyllic, pastoral land where storytellers are revered above all others. There she meets a young man who is about to embark on a quest of his own - and may be the one chance Rosie has of returning home. These breathtaking adventures ultimately intertwine with the story of an eccentric psychomathematician whose breakthrough discovery will affect all of these different lives and worlds.
Dazzlingly inventive and deeply satisfying, Arcadia tests the boundaries of storytelling and asks: If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly alter the past?
©2016 Iain Pears (P)2016 Random House Audio
"Not so much a novel as a cornucopia of narratives.... As a novelist, Iain Pears doesn't repeat himself, and he gives with a generous hand." (The Spectator)
"Extremely clever but, better than that, immensely entertaining.... Pears almost seamlessly merges genres of fantasy, sci-fi, spy thriller, romance, and more." (The Oxford Times)
"A fantastical extravaganza.... A complex time-travelling, world-hopping caper with insistently epic stakes." (The Guardian)
Pleasantly complicated. a touch of everything, including sci-fi, old fashioned mystery, romance and beyond, all wound together beautifully.
Such a fun story! Time-hopping, world hopping! Social commentary with a light-ish touch. An interesting discussion of the ways societies organize themselves, the benefits and the difficulties. Also, an interesting way to look at how our perceptions are limited by the times/places we live in. I enjoyed Jayne Entwistle's performance. John Lee, on the other hand, drove me to buy the book and read the second half in print. I guess he was trying to distinguish different male characters, but the result is some unendurably cartoon-like voices.
Is this novel adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, murder mystery, espionage thriller, dystopian speculation? The answer is yes. It’s actually all of those things. As the description says, we begin with Henry Lytten, gratefully retired from the British intelligence service and now living (in 1962) in Oxford, where he is noodling with writing a fantasy novel of Anterwold, an arcadian world, and one that he hopes will be better than those created by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
In Anterwold, the young peasant, Jay, experiences a visitation from a lady mysteriously conjured from nothingness. This vision will change his life and Anterwold.
Lytten’s teenage neighbor, Rosie, comes to feed the cat and have a chat with him, as usual, and becomes entangled in Lytten’s fantasy world. At the same time, one of Henry’s old intelligence comrades comes calling and asks him (though there’s never really an “ask” in that world) to take on one more assignment crucial to the Cold War then raging.
In another thread of the story, Angela Meerson is an eccentric genius in a dystopian future where all of society is rigidly controlled, except for exiled renegades, who scrape out an existence without the resources provided by the establishment, but also without the drugs that turn people into drudges. Angela is working on a machine that was supposed to generate infinite parallel worlds, but she suspects it will actually prove the possibility of time travel.
Though the interweaving of all these story threads is complex, it doesn’t seem so at all while you’re reading. This is a deceptively simple and straightforward story, and one with a large cast of winning characters.
This is a long book, but the stories stay engaging in their separate ways. Then, in the last quarter or so, Pears masterfully brings all the threads together in an exciting and delightful climax.
Iain Pears is a fascinating writer because all of his books are so different from each other. His other titles, like An Instance of the Fingerpost and Stone’s Fall, have weightier themes, but Arcadia is fun to read and may appeal to a broader audience.
A note about the audiobook: The principal reader is John Lee. Lee seems to be everywhere in audiobooks, and I am probably in the minority when I say that’s unfortunate. I’ve reached the point where I can barely stand to hear his voice. It’s oily, pompous and he doesn’t have a good sense of tone or cadence. Jayne Entwistle reads the Angela Meerson chapters. Entwistle is the reader for the Flavia de Luce novels and I think is more suited to younger characters’ voices. I didn’t object to her in this novel, but I don’t think she was the best choice for an older woman like Meerson.
Addicted to books, both print and audio-.
I can't even begin to imagine how to describe this book. Time travel, fantasy, sci fi, Shakespeare, the Wizard of Oz, the end of the world, romance, coming of age . . . it has a fantastically complex plot which does make sense (I'm pretty sure), a lot of terrific characters, snappy dialogue, interesting futuristic scenarios, and excellent writing. If you get impatient with fantasy/sci fi elements, you're not going to go for this, but if you suspend disbelief and go along for the ride, it's a blast. It's a really fun book, and just when you think you're getting a handle on things, Pears pulls a hard u-turn and you're off to someplace else. In the end it is satisfying!
The narration is generally very good. My only quibble is that John Lee's voicing of Angela Meerson was in a completely different universe from Jayne Entwistle's voicing of the same character. John Lee seemed to veer into Monty Python or Dame Edna territory, where Entwistle (what a great name) did a fairly straightforward and very believable geek-ish reading. But that's a minor quibble, and the book is delightful and like nothing else you've ever read.
Iain Pears is a reliably entertaining, inventive, humorous writer. "Arcadia" draws on, and gently satirizes, a rich panoply of primarily fantasy and sci-fi literature, with strong elements of mystery and spy novels as well. The humorous tone is pure British. The book explicitly refers to numerous writers, such as Lewis, Tolkien, Shakespeare, and Christie, but I also detect echoes of Wodehouse, Asimov, and Le Carre. And the very next novel I want to revisit after this is "To Say Nothing of the Dog," another funny British time-travel novel.
The combination of science-fiction, magic, romance, human imagination and mystery. interlocking worlds, time travelling. A many-layered narrative in which real and imagined worlds continually collide.
I found this book because of John Lee. I am not familiar with the second reader, but both did an exceptional job.
I gabbled this book too fast...yes it made me laugh.
Amazing story, excellent reading. One of the best books I've experienced.
This book rather defies categorization: spy novel? Murder mystery? Steam punk? Historical fiction? Fantasy? Sci Fi? Brit Lit? Apocalyptic? Nuclear war? Shakespeare? Robin Hood? Time Machines and alternate universes?
Utterly and charmingly superb.
I took a risk getting this book, as I had never read anything by Iain Pears before and the book was so new when I got it there were no reviews. The description sounded interesting so I went for it. I was glad I did! I really enjoyed the story. John Lee sounded a little stiff at first, but I got used to his narration and enjoyed it after a while. Then they introduced Angela Meerson (not sure of the spelling) and all of her pov chapters were narrated by Jayne Entwistle, who I think did a marvelous job. My one complaint is that Angela's character was voiced by both narrators (because Ms. Entwistle only narrated Angela's pov, and Mr. Lee narrated everyone elses pov). They each made her sound different. This was a little distracting.
The story is hard to categorize. It takes place in three different worlds- one is 1960, the second is definitely in the future, and the third is a mystery. I had fun gathering clues and guessing what was going on.
The characters were interesting, some were better developed than others.
Overall I really enjoyed the story, and I will definitely read other works by this author in the future.
My interests tend toward Biology/Medicine and SciFi, particularly post-apocalyptic fiction.
- I found the time-travel theoretical science pretty engaging. Essentially, the 'alternate realities' theory is shown to be false, and it turns out any given entry-point will affect all others. The paradox issue was still a bit of a problem for me, and it was a little tough to grasp at times, but I liked the analogy they used with a piece of paper and a string running over it. Provided the starting point ("the big bang") and the endpoint ("the big crunch," which really wasn't elaborated on...) are the same, the string can take any number of configurations along the way to those ends.
- The writing is great, and the character interactions are entertaining (and funny), in a 'British' flavor. Personally, I thought the narration was excellent. The two separate (male and female) narrators for the different chapters/character perspectives worked well.
- This novel incorporates a lot of different genre types, from medieval sword-and-shield to 60s spy novel, to dystopian future, and pulls it off pretty well. Things are tied together nicely at the end, which I liked.
- It was a little slow-moving at times. This novel was mainly character-driven, so if you are looking for action or thrills, this probably isn't the ticket.
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