Thank you NetGalley and Knopf for providing an e-book in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Henry Lytten–a spy turned academic and writer–sits at his desk in Oxford in 1962, dreaming of other worlds.
He embarks on the story of Jay, and eleven-year-old boy who has grown up within the embrace of his family in a rural, peaceful world–a kind of Arcadia. But when a supernatural vision causes Jay to question the rules of his world, he is launched on a life-changing journey.
Lytten also imagines a different society, highly regulated and dominated by technology, which is trying to master the science of time travel.
Meanwhile–in the real world–one of Lytten’ s former intelligence colleagues tracks him down for one last assignment.
As he and his characters struggle with questions of free will, love, duty and the power of imagination, Lytten discovers he is not sure how he wants his stories to end, nor even who is imaginary…
Iain Pears is another author who I’ve been meaning to try but never got around to until now. Arcadia is a book that shouldn’t have worked. It has a huge cast of characters and alternate timelines and storylines that go back and forth between fantasy, science fiction, and even cold war spy drama. It should have been a confusing mess, but somehow the author skillfully juggles everything for 528 pages until the stories and characters are brought together in a brilliant conclusion. The three settings are: 1960s Oxford, a Scottish island called Mull in 2200, and Anteworld, which seems for the majority of the book to be set during medieval times. There are no less than ten main characters to follow. I know. Sounds complicated, right? While the chapters alternate between these worlds and characters, I was never left feeling confused though. Everything is laid out in a comprehensive fashion, which I especially appreciated as I was reading this on my Kindle which makes it tough to turn back pages. The only story I thought was a bit superfluous was the spy mystery. I found it pretty predictable and it didn’t really add anything to the other stories. Otherwise, although it doesn’t seem like it all these characters and worlds are interconnected. I didn’t know that there’s actually an app for iPad/iPhone users where readers can choose which paths they want to follow while reading the story. You don’t need this, but it is a fun app and I wish I had known about it when I started the book.
Arcadia is a beautifully written and ingenious book whose characters and stories will mesmerize you. Iain Pears is an author that doesn’t show his cards at the very beginning. Instead he lays out a trail of breadcrumbs to follow from chapter to chapter which makes it almost impossible to stop reading. If you’re looking for a book that is different from anything you’ve previously read, I highly recommend this.