Thursday, 3 September 2015

Arcadia by Iain Pears Review

An Oxford don is writing a fantasy book like his colleagues Lewis and Tolkien did. He’s visited every now and then by a young girl who helps around the house and who discovers a magic mirror in his basement that leads into a pastoral wonderland – almost like the fantasy landscape the don is creating. A couple hundred years in the future, a psychomathematician has discovered a portal to parallel universes – which are real – and has chosen to hide in one because she's nuts. The magic mirror is hers which she left in the don’s basement after travelling back in time. There’s also a young lad training to be a Storyteller, which is some kind of priest. 

I’m 20% of the way into this 600+ page doorstopper and I’m giving up here. This is well past the 50-page limit I usually allow for a book to convince me it’s worth continuing with. There’s no story – nada, zip! Just these boring characters who aren’t doing anything. The don reads his fantasy crap to colleagues in a pub then sits about his house with his fat cat eating sponge cake. The girl meets some passed-out traveller and listens to the don patronise her. The kid in training to be a priest sees a ghost and is patronised by his teachers. Come on! What is Iain Pears doing?! 

The psychomathematician’s chapters were vaguely interesting, particularly the glimpse into the parallel world where Nixon became President, not JFK. Even then though – what was the point? And most of the time her future science dystopia into tedious office politics. 

There’s also a much-publicised app to accompany the novel. All it is, is the novel – which you have to purchase piecemeal – laid out differently with the “plot” lines visually laid out allowing the reader to select which pathways they want to read it. Apparently Pears’ vision was to create multiple versions of Arcadia to give each reader a different reading experience. Ambitious, sure, but the finished article just looks gimmicky and underwhelming, particularly as it's far less innovative than it would have you believe. 

I read Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost when it first came out and loved it. A post-English Civil War whodunit told from the perspective of four different narrators where it was up to the reader to decide who was telling the truth – a superb mystery! Arcadia though is sprawling tedium much like its namesake written by Sir Philip Sidney in Elizabethan times (who is referenced in the text). I don’t know what the story is, why I should care, nor am I interested in any of the characters. I’m not about to force myself through several hundred more pages of this crap – so long, Arcadia!


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