Holiday Books #3 Arcadia by Iain Pears

This novel is supposedly so complicated that Pears thought it best to develop an app alongside it to guide readers through the main plot lines. I didn’t use said app, and found myself absolutely spellbound by Pear’s worlds – this was one of the best books I’ve read in a while and I experienced a moment of intensive sadness when I finished it because I’ll never be able to read it for the first time again. Is there a word for that sense of loss? I think there should be.

True to Pear’s promise of complexity, I’m not going to describe this fantastical work of fiction in much detail. Essentially, it’s a story about story telling, story tellers and the blurred lines between fiction and reality. If our world exists, then whose to say that other’s can’t? What if the world inside a story lies dormant until we discover it, immerse ourselves in it and allow it to become more real than our own reality?

In Pears’s words, “Arcadia is ultimately just a story; a tale of three worlds, historical, ideal and dystopian, with a cast of characters whose actions and decisions change and affect their surroundings and interconnect endlessly. It is also about memory and storytelling, and the possibility of drawing together fragments of all the great tales of the world as they are remembered by one or other of the characters.”

Pears essentially develops ten separate story threads, following various narratives and allowing his characters to interact in a number of defining moments. There’s Angela, the disillusioned and fiercely intelligent mathematician harking from a grim future who develops a device that makes time travel possible and fictional worlds plausible. There’s Henry Lytten, a professor/ spy who writes a universe that Angela brings to life.  And then Rosie, the young woman who embarks on her own Bildungsroman as such, as she steps into another world and exists simultaneously in two macrocosms, while hovering between two states, as teenager and adult, girl and woman. Pears pieces together all these fragments into a beautiful whole, and becomes much like the master Story teller of his own creation.

I’m not sure if I’ll delve into the app. I loved the story so much I worry the app might taint that experience. But maybe like Arcadia, it’s simply another world to become immersed in. A story inside a story inside a possibility.


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