Regular price: $38.50

Membership details Membership details
  • A 30-day trial plus your first audiobook, free.
  • 1 credit/month after trial – good for any book, any price.
  • Easy exchanges – swap any book you don’t love.
  • Keep your audiobooks, even if you cancel.
  • After your trial, Audible is just $14.95/month.
OR
In Cart

Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    199
  • 4 Stars
    132
  • 3 Stars
    57
  • 2 Stars
    12
  • 1 Stars
    9

Performance

  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    195
  • 4 Stars
    121
  • 3 Stars
    37
  • 2 Stars
    9
  • 1 Stars
    6

Story

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    181
  • 4 Stars
    112
  • 3 Stars
    51
  • 2 Stars
    12
  • 1 Stars
    11
Sort by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great fun!

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.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing story with excellent readers (John Lee!)

What made the experience of listening to Arcadia the most enjoyable?

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.

Have you listened to any of John Lee and Jayne Entwistle ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I found this book because of John Lee. I am not familiar with the second reader, but both did an exceptional job.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I gabbled this book too fast...yes it made me laugh.

Any additional comments?

Amazing story, excellent reading. One of the best books I've experienced.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

a wonderfully complicated genre hopper.

Pleasantly complicated. a touch of everything, including sci-fi, old fashioned mystery, romance and beyond, all wound together beautifully.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Quintessentially British mashup

Any additional comments?

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Delightful genre fiction mash-up

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.

19 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Engaging story

Any additional comments?

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastic book!

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Lars
  • Marshall, MI
  • 04-20-16

Slow-moving Time-Travel Epic

PROS:
- 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.

CON:
- 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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Great story, unfortunate choice of narrator (Lee)

If you could sum up Arcadia in three words, what would they be?

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.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Steven
  • Hillside, NJ, United States
  • 07-23-17

Just a TAD Too Ambitious For It's Own Good

Well! This was one weird, whacky ride guys. I found this title through the recommendations of Goodreads, and in the description it literally summed up many themes and tropes that I really enjoy. So.. I was thinking that this would be a straight forward read, nothing really unusual, despite the description stating some telltale hints that this may be trippy. Though trippy is good...it can be. As I began I suppose I had some idea and thoughts as to how this would play out. I was thinking it would be a very Pan's Labryinth type novel. I was right and wrong...I was pleased, and disappointed... and I was excited to continue, and bored to continue. Not all at the same time of course..Okay let me start from the top...

So the story here begins (but by god it definitely does not stay here) in the 1960's. We're introduced to a really interesting character named Lytten, who's described as a professor (not sure if he actually is or not, but he's very intelligent, and worked for the military intelligence during WWII) is a reclusive person. The term, hermit may be a bit much, but he's not exactly the most talkative and socially outgoing person. He's introduced to us as a writer, but not the normal novel writer who aspires to get his work published or even really seen. In fact...If he published it, or gave it to others, his safe space and place of quiet would be gone and ripped apart.He belongs to a small book club of gentlemen who all like and enjoy their escapism through writing. They get away from their wives and personal lives and convene together to read to each other, talk and converse about usually science fiction or fantasy writing. The author here makes note that Henry Lytten either knew personally or studied the works of Tolkien and C.S Lewis. In fact Tolkein's world comes into play into the story!

Litten's home life is secluded, quiet, and only point of contact mostly, is a young 15 year old girl, Rosie, who is bookish and inquisitive herself.
She comes over to feed Litten's cat, but secretly always hopes he's around since he gives her lessons and doesn't treat her like 'a girl'. He home life is bad, no one likes or appreciates that she's smart and educated. They think these are not good traits for a girl to have. She's a bit shunned and outcast as well.


Litten is working on a new kind of book, that's a departure from his normal fantasy, tolkein and lewis like writing.
From this point we're then introduced to another world or timeline. We can resumeably assume and I think that it's fairly well implied that the storyline we're showed is the story that Lytten is writing.

There's multiple characters introduced here. The main character, a young boy named Jay. This '2nd' world that is introduced is very complex and it's society has a very narrative based lifestyle. They tell stories, and even have folks dedicated to preserving story lines, and history. Instead of the Bible, they have "The Story". It's not a holy or religious text, but it's revered as "THE DOCUMENT" to reference for anything.. For example Jay was quized on why Iron was better than Bronze, but instead of citing a passage from "The Story" he skipped the class, and went and found a real blacksmith and talked to him. Henri, his mentor (reminds me of the relationship of Qui Gon Jin > Obi Wan > Anakin. Qui Gon dies, like Etheren, and the reluctant tutor, Henri/ObiWan but train Anakin/Jay who is rebelous but smart and clever)

The book was off to a strong start. But as this progressed, the fantasy world that we were shown, called Anterworld, to me just wasn't (initially) as interesting as the main 1960's story. Even though we're not given a lot of time with Lytten, his relationship to Rosie, and his interaction with the world, and time period really had me. Then we're sort of whisked away to another story. Now I knew going in that this would be a story relating two different worlds, so ..okay. But my gripe and annoyance came with this, is that we're really pummeled with the amount of character's we're introduced to.

This only continues as the story digs in. The way the story progresses and is written is actually what turned me off the most. It's written in such a way that events happen in one storyline. Then later on, either sooner or later, we're shown the same "scene" through the eyes of another person. While this is very cool in a more straightforward story, it doesn't do as well when we already have jumping time frames. We also were introduced to a 3rd world. A future dystopian that really pulled me out of the story. It wasn't until way way later in the book that I sort of began to "get" that future story. My problem I believe is that I may have taken the book too lightly up front. And because I listen to my audiobooks, I will admit there are times that you do get distracted and you may *think* you heard what was going on, but you could have missed major key pieces and nuainced story. So going towards the middle of the book, my excitement level had dipped to a point where I actually was sort of angry and disappointed. To me, it had started off to good and rich, but the author barrages you with so many (seemingly) random events, and multiple stories, it was just too much and the characters were just names at that point. I went from really caring about the core set of characters, Lytten, Angela, and Rosie, but all of these other's where popping up and from the readers perspective, offered nothing but distraction.



The character of Angela grew on me once I forced myself to settle down and focus more on the characters...
So in Angela's future, the gov't (apparently there's only 1?) has removed pretty much all free thinking, sadness, 2nd thought, and doubt from people. Art is frowned upon because it would inspire free radical thinking. There are groups/cults and outliers that resist. They stage protests, revolt cause "Terroist" acts. They have forest retreats and camps/towns away from the main society. They shun all forms of modern (future) medicine. Medicine has advanced to the point where people, Angela included, she was one of the elite, before she turned, can taken medicine or undergo treatment to reduce effective age. This isn't an infinite solution, as it sounds like they do still age, but it can add on decades and decades.
So the members of these groups that resist dont' and ignore all forms of gov't aid. Drugs in people's food keep dreams surpressed, democracy is abolished. The resisters are arrested, killed or have their brains wiped. Angela who worked for the gov't research division, defects. She realizes that the Elite class is horrid and wants to go about to change history to see if she can change how her future is. Hence why she's been secretly working and using the gov't facilities to development the time machine. (I wish the "future world" was more fleshed out and explored.) She explains to Rosie that in her future, her boss wants to make money with the idea of multiple realities.
So Angela is using Anteworld to 'calibrate' her machine. She actually doesn't really care about the world specifically, just needs someplace stable enough to stay open, and not collapse until she has the data she needs. She's a 'psycho-mathimatician'. Cute. Normally I love me some dystopian stories. But this one just seems very very generic, it offers pretty much what every other dystopian story has...Censorship, resistance, evil, meglamaniac gov't...etc. Been there done that...

Now at this point let me share my thoughts to my fellow audio listeners... John Lee's narration of Angela is pretty bad… Normally his stuff is spot on, but Angela as a woman, he completely destroys. Then there's the matter of her own personal narration is done by someone else, a woman. They should have gotten her to do ALL of her narrating, cause it's very disjointed and jarring when the same character, one done by a man and the other a woman, clash so heavily, it's very jarring and doesn't come off well at all...

My last bit of complaining here (my last I promise! I actually DID enjoy this book!) is the sort of lazy way the author chooses to explain what's going on. Now on one hand, I relied heavily on this type of exposition in that it's very clear, straightforward and it lays it all out. Unfortunately this comes off very artifical. The rest of the story is very 'fluid' and feels like the story flows. But during these parts of "Whoa, slow down and let's recap" moments, things are explained through the eyes of usually someone from the "Future" story line. It's not a killer, and again it actaully helped me piece of things together, but it's not very... clever, which clashes with the rest of the books style.

Okay, so I've laid out a lot of grievences with the book. But I actually rebounded and as I began really really paying attention and trying harder to make the connections between the characters in all three worlds, it turned into a very Cloud Atlas like story. While it's not as well done as Cloud Atlas. I love the idea of Lytten's story being a sort of center piece to different events. While the reveal and climax at the end felt way too much like a James Bond evil villain plot (c'mon...high jack a nuke and bomb the world? Couldn't be a tad more inventive...?) it tied in well with the idea of cause and effect.

Talks about altering the past. Unfortunately changing an event is generally compensated but other events forming to "heal" the change. Example given is JFK / Nixon election, and up to Reagan's election. Two variations of outcome. Reminds me heavily of Stephen King's book,
"11/22/63"

The book here then makes attempts to tie all three worlds together, with some characters crossing between them. The fact that Lytten created Anterworld, he puts and makes many of the people he's met in his life into character in his book. This also has a very Wizard of Oz take, as by the end of the book he's introduced to them, which are oddly reflections of his own mind. I really enjoyed this part, and I can't help but think that this book would have been so much better if it stayed simple, really work on the "god like" character of Lytten over his world, and not go to deep into the evil cliche gov't organization story...
It was a good book, but sort of tried to do too much. It sort of felt like going on a date with a third wheel. Many parts and stories, really got in the way of a story that would have been a very pure and elegant story, of time, causality, and decisions we make in life.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful