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Fictional Novel, Literary Fiction...

Title : An Instance of the Fingerpost
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ISBN : 9781573220828
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 691 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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An Instance of the Fingerpost Reviews

  • Jeffrey Keeten
    2019-05-13 15:36

    ”When in a Search of any Nature the Understanding stands suspended, then Instances of the Fingerpost shew the true and inviolable Way in which the Question is to be decided. These Instances afford great Light, so that the Course of the Investigation will sometimes be terminated by them. Sometimes, indeed, these Instances are found amongst that Evidence already set down.” --Francis Bacon, Novum Organum Scientarum, Section XXXVI, Aphorism XXIOliver Cromwell, not really relevant to this book except for the destabilized government he left after his death.It is the 1660s and England is still in turmoil after the death of Oliver Cromwell. He unnaturally died of natural causes though he was later dug up, hung in chains, and ceremoniously beheaded. Torturing a corpse seems like an odd thing to do. It is as if they believed they could torment the departed soul with what they do with the empty shell. Regardless, Cromwell’s death left a power vacuum that was proving difficult to fill. It is easy to confuse Oliver Cromwell with Thomas Cromwell as both did rise to great heights of power. Oliver is a descendant of Thomas’s older sister. Thomas worked for Henry the VIII and did lose his head not unusual for anyone who worked closely with the colossally paranoid King. Charles II has been allowed to return to the throne taken from his father (Charles I was beheaded, while alive, not another bit of corpse desecration) in 1649. Charles Junior was technically back in charge, but his powers had been severely curtailed. He wasn’t that worried about the extent of his power as he was more concerned about fornicating, gambling, and having the best possible time that English peasant taxes could buy. Given what happened to his father and the life he had on the run, fearing assassination, maybe it makes sense that Charles II devoted his life to the pursuit of pleasure.But that is all on the periphery of our story, merely serving as a backdrop for a good old fashioned English murder mystery. The book is split into four parts each section told by a different narrator each with their own unique view of events. Don’t worry these are not rehashing of the same information over and over again. New, critical information is released with each changing perspective. The victim is Dr. Robert Grove, an amateur astrologer of New College, Oxford. Like many men, then and now, he liked a glass of alcoholic liquor at the end of the day to calm his frazzled nerves and hopefully give him a gentle push off into the land of Morpheus. Unfortunately with the brandy was a tincture of arsenic that seized his heart and left him a cooling, yet still flatulent, corpse with a host of suspects. Our first narrator is Marco da Cola, a rather flamboyantly dressed young man from Venice who is in London on business for his father. He is having pecuniary difficulties and needs sources of ready cash. He turns his hand to being a physician, untrained, but it seems that in this time period men with a degree in most anything would occasionally turn their hand to doctoring. The descriptions of the superstitions that were still dictating prescribed treatment by a physician of this time period made it very clear that one had to be very desperate to seek care at all. Da Cola meets Sarah Blundy when he offers to help heal her mother’s broken leg. He needs a client even if it is unlikely that Sarah can pay his fee with hard coin. There is something, though, not quite right about Marco da Cola. ”He was playing a game with us all, and was confident of his success, and he was now underestimating his audience as I had underestimated him. He did not realize that I saw, that instant, into his soul and perceived the devilish intent that lay hidden there, coiled and waiting to unleashed when all around had been lulled into thinking him a fool.” John WallisJohn Wallis, a very serious man who has trained himself to discover conspiracies.What is it with da Cola being do damned friendly as well! Wallis, Professor of Geometry at Oxford and the greatest English mathematician before Newton was also a cryptographer for parliament. Because he was so immersed in the intrigues of court he caught some of the paranoia that was part and parcel of a king and his handlers that felt anything but in control. He sees grand conspiracies where maybe the odd behavior of some people has to do with something altogether different than plotting the downfall of the government. He is our third narrator. I’m taking him out of order simply because he had such a juicy assessment of da Cola. He is a Christian man and invests his money accordingly. ”I had placed to advantage some small part of my surplus funds in the East Indies, and also with a gentleman who captured Africans for the Americas. This latter was by far the finest investment I ever made, the more so because (the captain of the vessel assured me) the slaves were instructed vigorously in the virtues of Christianity on their voyage across the ocean and thus had their souls saved at the same time as they produced valuable labor for others.”Well he was against slavery, but if the crusty bastard who captains the vessel is willing to hold prayer meetings with them all across the ocean than he was in. It is so nice to turn a healthy profit and save souls at the same time. We are supposed to believe this investment is about souls and not about gold. Wallis is an expert in cyphers, certainly one of the best minds for puzzles living in this time period. In fact, he periodically receives offers to work for other governments, but he is as fervently patriotic for England as he is about saving the souls of black slaves. For instance, he knows more about the downfall of Jack Prestcott’s father than what he is willing to share. Because of the intersection of characters Prestcott’s obsession with discovering the truth about his father gets wrapped up in the investigations of Grove’s murderer. ”Tully says true, a dux quidem immortalibusquae potest homini major esse poena furore atque dementia, what greater punishment can the gods inflict upon a man that madness?Jack is the second narrator. He is convinced that Sarah Blundy is a witch. After he raped her, he did have to rough her up as the silly bitch wouldn’t just lay there and take it like the wanton slut he assumed her to be, he was convinced she put a curse on him. ”You may have been born a gentleman; that is your misfortune. But your actions are those of one far lower than any man I have ever known. You violated me, although I gave you no cause to do so. You then spread foul and malicious rumors about me, so I am dismissed from my place, and jeered at in the streets, and called whore. You have taken my good name, and all you offer in return is your apology, said with no meaning and less sincerity. If you felt it in your soul, I could accept easily, but you do not.”“How do you know?”“I see your soul,” She said, her voice suddenly dropping to a whisper which chilled my blood. “I know what it is and what is its shape. I can feel it hiss in the night and taste its coldness in the day. I hear it burning, and I touch its hate.”As much as I wish that Sarah had been capable of putting a curse on Jack it simply wasn’t the case. His own mind put a curse on him. He was sure she was his enemy, why wouldn’t he? He certainly gave her just cause. He turns out to be much more than a rapist, but also a liar and a manufacturer of evidence. Sarah, because she had worked for Dr. Grove, and was known as a willful woman, meaning she was likely to defend herself verbally if assaulted verbally, is the most convenient number one suspect in the poisoning of the Dr. Grove. The fourth narrator is Anthony Wood, an antiquary and historian, best known for his diaries that were published long after his death. He gets Sarah a job with his parents and also recommended her for the job at Grove’s. He carries a torch for Sarah. Despite the risks, he has a night of passion with her that goes beyond lust and reaches the first hills and dales of love. ”I sinned against the law, against God’s word reported, I abused my family and exposed them even more to risk of public shame, I again risked permanent exclusion from those rooms and books which were my delight and my whole occupation; yet in all the years that have passed since I have regretted only one thing: that it was but a passing moment, never repeated, for I have never been closer to God, nor felt his love and goodness more.”An engraving of Anthony Wood.You will like Anthony Wood. He is probably the only man in this novel lacking in guile. A man who gives loyalty and understands the true responsibility of the word, not just when it is convenient, but from the first breath as he gives it to the last breath as he expires. Iain PearsIain Pears has built this four layered cake of a novel, each layer is sprinkled with truth, but lies and half truths are hidden in the batter and the frosting. The reader is forced to pay attention to each bite, each paragraph, each lick, each word as the twists and turns of this plot are patiently revealed. Most of what the narrators reveal to us they believe to be true, but they are all guilty of their own suppositions colored by their own prejudices. The reader feels like an investigator, barraged with different views, conflicting stories, and it is only in the final moments of the book that most of us will discover that we were wrong. Highly Recommended!”I have been spared riches and fame and power and position, just as His goodness has saved me from poverty and great illness.” Anthony WoodIf you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.comI also have a Facebook blogger page at:

  • Chris
    2019-05-05 13:41

    Still one of the best books I've ever read, this has something for everyone. It's a mystery, it's history, it's science, it's drama, it's amazing. It's really long too, but that just makes it better- by the time you finish it you'll be sorry it wasn't longer.

  • Saleh MoonWalker
    2019-05-15 17:37

    Onvan : An Instance of the Fingerpost - Nevisande : Iain Pears - ISBN : 1573227951 - ISBN13 : 9781573227957 - Dar 704 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 1997

  • Wealhtheow
    2019-05-24 15:53

    What sticks in my mind about this book is being consumed with fury for 1/4th of it--and then having the following conclusion be the greatest revenge. A really excellent novel with some very unreliable narrators and detailed characterization. I was amazed at how everything fit together by the end.

  • Sue
    2019-05-25 09:41

    A "novel" novel (please pardon the attempted humor), where unreliable narrators outnumber purported reliability by a long shot. Once again my happiness at not living in the 17th century is validated as I read of the physical squalor, the political and religious unrest and distrust in England after the restoration of Charles II, the relative worthlessness of the average person's life. Amidst that there is the glimmer of new knowledge and education at Oxford the seat of "Instance". Along with the new areas of philosophy, which includes the budding knowledge of medicine, alchemy and belief in witchcraft still exist. It's a veritable stew of contrary beliefs and mistrust. Add to that a death that may or may not have been suspicious, apparent witnesses who may or may not have seen anything, and multiple reporters on the event who give us their views on what happened.An historical fiction lovers delight. Someday I will likely read this again to try to trace how Pears did this slight of hand.One quote from the book I'll add as a socio-political aside, acknowledging this is a book written in modern times to reflect 17th century attitudes. "We put up in an inn, where we rested ourselves until the execution the next morning. ...the girl... made a wretched speech and quite lost the sympathy of the crowd. It had been a complicated case andthe town was by no means convinced of her guilt. She had killed a man whom she said had raped her, but the jury judged this a lie because she had fallen pregnant, which cannot occur without thewoman taking pleasure in the act. Normally hercondition would have spared her the gallows, butshe had lost the child and also any defense against the hangman. An unfortunate outcome, which those who believed in her guilt considered divine Providence."Seems to me I recall a 21st century politician espousing this same belief about rape, sadly. (Just couldn't leave this out)

  • Paul Bryant
    2019-05-22 10:56

    There is a murder and there is a dispossessed heir. Frankly, I couldn’t give a stuff if some shouldabeen rich young sprog got hornswoggled in the 17th century, I mean, the goodly realm of Great Britain had just been through 20 years of civil war and there was an awful lot of horns swoggled, of that you can be sure. I’d say more horns were swoggled than not swoggled. Vast estates yanked from under the noses of their rightful heirs and all of that. Who cares. Alas, the whole plot of this very long novel (almost as long as the 17th century itself) is can this unpleasant young man get his inheritance back and who murdered this unpleasant middle aged guy in Oxford who was mixed up in it somewhere and this young woman is accused of the crime but she prolly didn’t do it and she’s a witch no she’s not yes she is she looked at me funny once.So this book was really trying my patience with its procession of rancid Oxford dons and sniffy cryptographers and the standard government-issue unreliable narrators all calling each other bad names. The first of the four long narratives we have here is actually pretty good stuff, a perky Italian geezer getting involved with blood transfusions and the said murder in 1662 when King Charles has just been restored to the throne and the air was thick with a great many cloaks and accompanying daggers. The second of the four long narratives is just about bearable but the boredom begins to set in like a fine drenching cold rain. How were we supposed to care about this young poltroon’s fortunes when he’s already told us that he reached a fat and sassy late middle age because God grinned down upon him from the highest heaven and gave him the Celestial Wink? It kinda robs the whole thing of any suspense.Then long narrative three finally kills off all remaining will-to-finish because we now have a second unpleasant old fart to listen to for hundreds of pages. And I checked and saw that the fourth long narrative is a third farty old fart, who no doubt will probably contradict the other three and reveal their narratives to be (shocketty shock) a tissue of deliberate fabrication and self-deception.Oh also, people did not write stuff like this in the 17th century, not even slightly. This is a wildly unrealistic smoothed down scrubbed and washed version of something no 17th century person would ever have written. So to sum up, no.

  • Kalliope
    2019-05-15 09:48

    This is one of the few books that I felt compelled to start immediately again, from page one, after reaching the end -- even though it has close to 700 pages.The story of this thriller is retold, in succession, by four different people. One of them lies and not until the very end does the reader know who is falsifying the story. And that is why I wanted to read it again: to pay attention to the structure and to how the story is woven by different points of view, and see where the liar has fabricated or left holes.I am writing this review years after having read the book. A lot of the particulars are therefore no longer easily retrievable from my brain. I also loved the language. I hope to read it at least a third time.

  • Bubu
    2019-05-23 15:46

    Edit Jan 2018: Added the right version of the audio bookOne murder.One young woman, Sarah Blundy, suspected to be the murderer and already found guilty by almost everyone before her trial starts.Four men of different backgrounds who recount the events that led to the murder and beyond.One of them is lying.Up until now, I’ve always considered The Name of the Rose as the best historical fiction I ever read. I’m omitting the word ‘mystery’ on purpose here, as - though definitely a murder/mystery - it only serves as a kick-start, the first layer of a multi-layered story that immersed me as much on the third or fourth re-read as it had done the very first time. As long as one is willing to grind through the first 150 pages, of course. Dare I say it?The Name of the Rose will now have to share that position withAn Instance of the Fingerpost . This book is a master piece of storytelling. I was glued to it from the first – or rather, I had my earphones glued to my ears, as I listened to the audio version.The reader is taken back to the time shortly after the collapse of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the restoration of Charles II. Both figures play only a peripheral role in the plot. The more important element here is what Cromwell’s ‘reign’ and the Restoration meant to the four men and all the other characters involved; how they were shaped by these events and what position they’d find themselves in.It is also the time where science takes its first big leaps. We’re only two and a half decades away from Newton’s Laws. But science is still considered as an instrument to prove God’s wonders on earth. The scientists are deeply religious and superstitious. Unicorns do exist, after all. I’m not joking here, by the way, and it’s very important to the story that these men are deeply religious.Because what are witness accounts if not subjective interpretations of the truth?Marco da Cola, the Venetian son of a merchant, on business in London who ends up in Oxford, is the first to tell his version of the people he meets, the murder he doesn’t witness (none of them actually sees how the victim is murdered), Sarah Blundy’s trial and death and the aftermath. But worry not. All four men don’t simply repeat what happens. They give an insight into their own lives, their motivations and priorities. And along the way, we have some parts overlapping. But it’s the interpretations of the events which made the book such a wonderful experience. Each account is distinctive and extremely interesting.None of them is reliable in their recounting of the events. These men aren’t Adson von Melk or Matthew Shardlake.Well, maybe one man is more reliable than the other, and maybe I already knew after Marco da Cola’s version that there was more to everything he had said. But not because I thought he had been lying. It was more a feeling that there was more behind it all. Maybe I guessed, at the very least, one part correctly. But that didn’t diminish my enjoyment one bit. On the contrary, it was ingenious. This is what superb storytelling is about. Taking one part, which - seemingly - is at the heart of the story, but going ahead and showing the complexity of human nature, which ultimately always ends in one question: What drives us? The author definitely achieved that. And more. Knowing I couldn’t rely on their versions, I had to listen carefully to the clues. And quite honestly, I’ll be the first to admit that I missed a lot of them, and I won’t blame the fact that I was listening to the audio version whilst being busy with something else instead of reading, which obviously always requires my whole attention. But I’m not sure I would have seen the clues even if I had read it first. Question is, of course, did the author leave any clues? Maybe, maybe not. I am reading the Kindle version at the moment. But I will never know now as I know the whole story already.But whether I missed the clues, or the author simply didn’t leave any clues, doesn’t matter.An Instance of the Fingerpostis simply mesmerising; fascinating in its ability to show what life was like shortly after Charles II. was restored; how science was a subordinate part of religious beliefs; how political ambitions could elevate or destroy a person’s life. I was actually about to say something about the ending but I won’t. I would have considered it a spoiler, however vague it would have been. But I kept in mind who these men were, so I was more than satisfied with it.Two things I’d like to add.One is a trigger warning, which I rarely ever do. There’s a rape scene. It’s not descriptive and over very quickly. That being said, it was from the rapist’s point of view, and that was difficult to stomach.Secondly, the audio version listed here, isn’t the one I listened to. I’m not a GR librarian and had to add the audio version to the various editions. However, I was unable to add theunabridged version I listened to. Somebody else added the abridged version. The one I listened to, has four narrators and the narration itself was incredible, and a cool 29 hours long! I'm not mentioning this only because it's filed under the abridged version. The narrators give each of the other characters their own voices; the way the four men perceived the people they are talking about. While Da Cola lets Sarah Blundy's mother talk almost like an angel, Jack Prescott, the second person to tell his version, makes the mother sound like a witch. Perfectly done!Last but not least, a big thanks to Georgie and her review. I’m not sure I would have gone for it, had it not been for her review.

  • Maciek
    2019-04-27 09:37

    Iain Pears is an Oxford-born and educated art historian and author of historical mysteries, and An Instance of the Fingerpost is his most famous novel. Good historians are not necessarily good authors and good authors are not necessarily good historians, but in Fingerpost Pears manages to strike a comfortable balance between both professions. An Instance of the Fingerpost is a long but involving book, which pays great attention to its historical setting and theme, but at the same time manages to weave in a compelling, involving mystery, full of smoking guns and false trails, and one which will not reveal itself to the reader until the very end to the book.The book is set in Oxford in 1633, after the end of the English Civil War, just after the monarchy of King Charles II has been restored. Although the war is over, Oliver Cromwell is dead, and the monarch is officially in power, the early Restoration years were a tumultuous period - England was still very much divided politically between Royalist supporters and opposing Parliamentarians. Even places such as Oxford - the intellectual center of the country, and the place of great intellectual debates - are not safe for political dissent, and just a few overheard words can grant one a great deal of trouble. And despite great scientific advancement and discoveries of the age, religion is present in all entitlements of society - from one's personal beliefs and superstitions to academic work and scientific research, contrasing the newly developed scientific method with ancient, medieval beliefs. The events of the novel are set in motion by the death of Robert Grove, an fellow of the New College. Although the exact circumstances of his death are unclear, all signs point to poison; soon a young woman named Sarah Blundy is accused of his murder. The novel is narrated by four different narrators, each of which tells his version of the story: Marco da Cola, a Venetian Catholic physician who has just arrived in England; Jack Prescott, son of a Royalist traitor who is bound on clearing his father's name; John Wallis, a genius mathematician and cryptographer who served both Cromwell and Charles II, who has a fondness for conspiracies; and lastly Anthony Wood, an Oxford antiquarian. Each of these characters maneuvers through the web of Oxford rivalries and plots, and has his own version of the story to tell.Although the book's mystery begins as a classic whodunnit surrounding the death of an Oxford Don, it soon becomes apparent that the real mystery surrounds the nature of discovery, investigation, understanding and ultimately truth itself. The title is a quotation borrowed from the 17th century philosopher Francis Bacon, who in his Novum Organum wrote about the nature of reasoning and the fallibility of evidence, but accounted for instances of the fingerpost - crucial instances which pointed in only one direction, sure and indissoluble, allowing for no other possibility. Such is the case with the book - although I felt a little disappointed by the ending: (view spoiler)[I felt that the introduction of a supernatural theme was unnecessary - it looked like Pears wrote himself into a corner, and had to resort to the supernatural to solve the plot and tie all its ends. Although to his credit we have to take into account that even the supernatural event is narrated by one of the characters, who has his own bias and perhaps is telling us what he wished had happened instead of what has actually taken place. (hide spoiler)]But do not let my complaint stop you from trying the book - Pears has a keen eye and a sharp pen, and has written a novel where the setting is also a character, and Oxford University - the sheltered intellectual vacuum - is a miniature of 17th century England, which truly comes to life with all the ways of the time, along with its sights and smells. The writing is excellent, the storyline very compelling and Pears switches effortlessly between the cast of intriguing characters, real and fictional - I particularly enjoyed Marco de Cola's perspective on England and English ways - and the mystery unravels new twists and contradictions with every page. This is an ideal novel to get lost in during these colder, winter days - if you don't think that a long, historical mystery of England in the 17th century cannot be absorbing, I'd recommend trying An Instance of the Fingerpost.

  • Jim
    2019-05-27 12:49

    An extremely engaging historical novel set in 1660s Oxford, with a side trip to London. Told from four viewpoints of varying reliability, this murder mystery gets gradually revealed as the story unfolds. The murder itself is consequential only in that it serves as a device to tie the main characters together. Mystery fans may wish to know if the novel sets out clues leading to whodunnit - but I can't help here as I did not try to solve it. This novel wears very well upon re-reading - and may be a desert-island book for me (at least top-100) because it so richly sets up 17th Century England: the overthrow and reinstallation of The Monarchy, the conflict between "radical" protestants and the Church of England, the tension between forward-looking nascent science (then called Natural Philosophy) and backward-looking classical medicine. We closely observe a "witch" (and her craft), a physician who badly wishes to complete the first modern book on anatomy, the second-greatest mathemetician in England (behind Newton), and get glimpses of other luiminaries such as Robert Boyle of the famous gas law and Thurloe of political intrigue forgotten by all but scholars of the time. Readers will get a feel for the practice of medicine, justice, science, alchemy, and the difficulty of life for those not fortunate to be well born.Highest Recommendation - say six to seven stars. UPDATEThe (4) narrators in order of narration: 1) Marco DiCola from Italy (Venice?). He has been sent by is father because his English partner is cheating him. He holds a letter of introduction to an Oxford Luminary, thus his reason to frequent Oxford inns and pubs. He runs around with the anatomist - Richard Lower - a historical figure. He comments extensively on English culture (including a Shakepeare play), food (it's bad), and manners (barbaric). He has training in medicine and treats the "witches" elderly mother. He also goes on rounds with Lower - travelling from town to town. He witnesses several trials including one which swirls around the central mystery - all the jurors are property owners (no women of course). 2) Jack Prestcott, whose father was disgraced as a Loyalist when Cromwell won - and who wishes to restore his estate and father's good name. 3) Wallis - the cryptographer - who has had dealings with Thurloe (as does young Prestcott). His paranoia causes him to see conspiracies - much as Prestcott does. 4) Anthony Wood - a historian who witnesses that which he ought not - and who is besotted (if not "bewitched") with the "witch" who cleans for Wood's mother. The "witch" is Sarah Blundy whose father was a Cromwell intriguer and who has fallen on hard times since his death.*********************************ADDENDUM - 2017NOV6-star, desert-island books are sufficiently worthy enough to get repeated notice - to that end, I offer links below to professional reviews that offer a little more landscape and historical context.But first a few teasers in the grand Hollywood tradition: (Fingerpost is) utterly mesmerizing, (an) intellectual thriller Oliver Cromwell is dead; the Levellers, Diggers and other such factions -- with their wild dreams of an egalitarian society -- have been destroyed or dispersed; peace, finally, has returned to a ravaged land . . . or has it?with perfect mastery Pears gradually takes us from an unexplained death in a small college town to a revelation that could shake the foundations of England and the world.Dr. Robert Grove (is found dead) suddenly poisoned in his chambers. Who did it? And, more important, why? And some more sober nuggets: One of the pleasures of reading (Fingerpost) is the opportunity it affords to become a kind of amateur expert on daily life in Restoration England.intelligent and well written ... for the reader who likes to be teased, who likes his plots as baroque and ingenious as possible, (Fingerpost) will not disappoint. would like to note that none of these reviewers expect to "like" the 17th century characters that play in the novel. Judged by 2017 sensibilities, few (perhaps none) of them would be thought suitable as "polite company", so ridden are they with bias, superstition, and (ladies note) misogyny. There is plenty of characterization to be had in Fingerpost - just don't expect "good character".For instance, the jurors mentioned above, would all be disqualified by the judge in an American 2017 rape trial. He need only ask whether they believe that pregnancy can result from rape. (check superstition box)The 3rd narrator reveals that he has invested well - in the New World slave trade. (check bias box, with a racist pen)Not only was this remunerative, but the Africans, so enslaved, were "saved" by the ship's Captain who had revealed God's grace to them. (Thanks to the Washington Post's Michael Dirda and fellow GoodReader, Jeffery Keeten, who resurrected this nugget)I thank author Pears for enhancing my poor education. He recounts and alludes to the English Civil War and the uprising of religious sects (counter to the Chuch of England) which undoubtedly informed American Founders with their own nation-building in the next Century. I leave you with one last quote (thanks again to Michael Dirda):Iain Pears has written an impressively original and audaciously imaginative intellectual thriller. Don't miss it.

  • emily
    2019-05-20 14:49

    well, I guess it's sort of read.I mean, I read as damn much as I could. which was roughly 1/3. it was going nowhere, and honestly, I didn't find it compelling enough to move much further. there's a sort of mystery I couldn't really get into, and there's regular (and, at the end of the book, carefully cited) appearances by british scientists and philosophers of the period, but there was nothing that actually made me want to pay attention. I didn't care about the characters or their progress.

  • Scott
    2019-05-04 13:47

    A story told in four sections, each told in the first person by a different character, and set in England during the Reformation, this is a gripping tale and intriguing mystery. What you think the story is about after reading the first section mutates and evolves to a quite surprising ending. If you like mystery, beautiful prose, and fascinating characters, pick this up. You won't easily be able to put it down.

  • Jared
    2019-05-21 13:36

    Uses multiple narrators to tell the story, each one revealing a bit more of the truth, which is intriguing. The only problem is the book is tedious and the payoff is not worth the ride.

  • Girl with her Head in a Book
    2019-05-02 17:55

    Historical fiction tends to gather around the Tudors and Victorians but often skirts the Stuarts. They had an awful lot of messy Civil Wars and their personalities were not what one would call attractive. Unlike writers attempting valiantly to fashion together something new from the fall of Anne Boleyn or similar, An Instance of the Fingerpost offers fresh material even for the hardened historical fiction fiend such as myself. However, even without the refreshing setting and context, Pears' novel marks itself as head and shoulders above the average. This is no fluffy period drama, but rather a grubby and uncertain tale where the truth is only ever glimpsed fleetingly. This is one of those exceptionally rare historical novels that actually do seem to blend in with their intended time period. Full of the suspicions, superstitions, traditions and beliefs of the seventeenth century, the reader is plunged into a dark and murky world of plots, whispers and secrets where it is almost impossible to tell the false coin from the genuine. Pears takes his title from Francis Bacon's Novum Organum and indeed each of the four sections of the novel are preceded by epigraphs from that book, but really what it signifies is that the fingerpost, like a signpost, points the way. It points to where the answers are. Yet by the very term 'an instance', Francis Bacon (and Iain Pears) underline just how rare such a thing might be. The novel tells us the same story four times from four utterly contradictory perspectives, so the reader only gradually realises in the closing pages what has been going on right under our very noses. Merton StreetI read Stone's Fall earlier this year, so was familiar with Pears' dense and often demanding prose - this is no light read to be dipped in and out of, An Instance of the Fingerpost is a book to dive in to and savour. The squalor and grime of seventeenth century society seems to ooze from the page and we have a real sense of Restoration Oxford. Oddly enough, this is where I work and it was quite peculiar to read the various street names having just walked along their twenty-first century counterparts. To be honest, vast screeds of Oxford have not changed. Certainly Merton Street has not (aside from the yellow lines). It is one of those cities which keeps one foot proudly in the past. Given that the majority of historical fiction concentrates on fashion choices or possibly military manoeuvres, Fingerpost is far more subtle. Pears borrows a large number of real-life historical figures and luckily a helpful Who's Who in the back helped to put the names into context, but still Pears is the not the kind of writer who stops to waste time with lengthy exposition. The reader is assumed to have some awareness of the political context and of academic politics and so the plot moves on. However, it is not just academic politics under examination here, each narrator writes their own experience of the murder of Dr Grove, an academic at New College. His former servant Sarah Blundy comes under suspicion of having poisoned him and no one can quite seem to agree about her true nature. The first testimony comes from Marco de Cola and indeed the discovery of his papers is what prompts the other three narrators to write their accounts in the first place. There is the brash and arrogant young James Prescott, obsessed with clearing his father's name of treachery, then the cold and manipulative Dr Wallis, also consumed with his own quest for revenge. Then there is the historian Wood, held in contempt by the other narrators but there is a chance, just a chance that he can see more clearly than the rest. Other than Gillespie and I, I can't remember another novel which pulled off the notion of the unreliable narrator quite so masterfully, and Gillespie and I was only working with one lead. Marco de Cola explains that back in 1663 he had been an Italian merchant's son who was trying to resolve his father's business affairs in London only to find himself betrayed and left in dire financial straits. He moved on to Oxford in an effort to improve his situation and fell in with some of the notable scientific minds of the day. He also met young Sarah Blundy and tasked himself with trying to heal her mother's broken leg, free of charge, but also exploring some of his own ideas about the transfusion of blood. Yet when Dr Grove is found dead, Cola is readily convinced of Sarah's guilt. On the face of it, de Cola has nothing to hide, no axe to grind. Yet as each of the others take their turn, we begin to question his version of events. Why did he behave so charitably towards Anne Blundy? Why did he even come to Oxford in the first place? Did he really speak all of the wise wise words he claimed to have, or was he a tongue-tied foreigner? Are we to believe him when he says that blood transfusion was his idea rather than those of the Oxford scientists?There are so many moments that I loved in this novel. We learn to mistrust de Cola's judgement by his scorn and disgust for so many of the English ways. We smirk silently as he reacts in horror to piece of theatre he has been taken to; we can recognise by description that he is criticising King Lear. Yet there are other ideas which are most disturbing; one woman who has complained of rape is discovered to be lying as she has fallen pregnant by her supposed attacker and everyone knows that this only happens if the woman experienced an orgasm during the act. Yet still, by contrast there is a sense of exciting surrounding the scientific research Cola describes, the possibilities and yet the depths which man is prepared to stoop to in order to find new knowledge and new understanding. This is a world standing on the brink, not yet quite ready to let go of the old beliefs and superstitions yet beginning to question.I think what has always put me off about the Restoration was the cynicism of it all - the King was not invited back out of some great love of Charles II himself but because Cromwell had died and the government seems to have felt lost without a leader. James Prescott might moon around old battlefields and consider the past but the average common man knew that the war had been miserable and repeats were to be avoided. Unlike previous regime changes such as the fall of Richard II or III (or even the calamities around Henry VI), most senior officials did hold on to their jobs. There were negotiations. People were pragmatic about what had to be done. It is not surprising that the grudges cherished by those who had felt hard done by festered. Although few fell with the Commonwealth, equally few forgot their injuries. The suspicion of Catholics remained like the modern threat of Islamic extremism and always the worry of how close they were to the King. Religion inspires a different kind of fear now but it is almost impossible to imagine a society governed by religious ritual. There is a question mark over each character in Fingerpost, what are their politics? For the King or late Cromwell sympathiser? What is their religion? Catholic? Protestant? Baptist, Anabaptist, Anglican, Quaker? Witch? Truly from these seeds was sectarianism sown. As with Stone's Fall, there is more than a pinch of the supernatural sprinkled through An Instance of the Fingerpost yet somehow it blended in far more so than in the former. Ironically enough, the novel's conclusion did not feel as much of a deus ex machina - as Wood's final words come to an end, we feel as though we have been told a delicious and wonderful secret, a secret to be held close as we are assured that all of evidence of it has been destroyed. Wood has given us the truth such as it is, he will tell nobody else. This was one of those books that made me ache slightly when it got to the end, which is no mean feat given that it stretches to nearly seven hundred pages. At its heart it is a thriller, full of twists and turns and dark alleys full of danger yet it is the reader who gets to play detective, to judge each of the witnesses and reach their own conclusions. An Instance of the Fingerpost is a novel to savour and consider and rabbit about at length to friends - it is a true tour de force.For my full review: http://girlwithherheadinabook.blogspo...

  • Althea Ann
    2019-04-29 11:29

    For ages, everyone told me that ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ is Iain Pears’ best novel. Partly because of this I sort of ‘saved it up’ and held off on reading it for a while. (The other factor in this decision was that this book, even in paperback, weighs about 10 pounds. It’s enough to make me want a Kindle!) But, because of this expectation-of-awesomeness (and maybe a tiny smidgin because of sore wrists?) I was a little bit disappointed. This is definitely Iain Pears’ most ambitious novel – but I didn’t like it the best.I also wish I’d known in advance that the whole concept of the novel is that you’re going to hear the whole story, repeatedly, from different perspectives. It’s always disappointing when you think (due to the number of pages on the right) that there are many more events to come – and there aren’t. Certainly, seeing the events through a different perspective, there are further revelations… but the ‘that’s it?’ realization was a bit of a let-down.‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ is a 17th-century British mystery-drama. I’d never heard the term ‘fingerpost,’ but it’s the British term (perhaps quite obviously) for one of those signposts that look like a hand pointing the way to a location. Here, each narrator’s tale seems to point in a somewhat different direction. (And all the narrators are probably-historically-authentic but quite-utterly-despicable people. Get ready to feel icky about spending time in their self-justifying, nasty company.) The first is Marco de Cola, an Italian dandy ostensibly in London to look after his father’s financial interests, but seemingly more interested in pursuing medical experimentation and intellectual pursuits. Second, Jack Prestcott; obsessed with rehabilitating his father’s reputation and overcoming his reputation as the son of a traitor to the realm. Third, John Wallis – a mathematician and cryptographer, and also a religious fanatic. Fourth – Anthony Wood – a socially pathetic man with somewhat-hidden intellectual abilities and an historian. None of them are reliable. Some may be intentionally deceitful. Some may be insane.The events center around the tale of Sarah Blundy; a poverty-stricken young woman accused of murder; but encompass a host of political machinations and conspiracies, going up to the highest level. Keeping track of all the characters (most of whom are historical figures), their motivations, and the elements that agree and conflict in each of their stories is intellectually stimulating. However, I wasn’t as emotionally drawn in to many of the events as I would’ve liked to be. However, I’d challenge any reader to fail to feel for Sarah Blundy, caught as she is in a trap not of her own making. More than most books, this vividly brings to light the unenviable situation of simply being a woman without means in this time and place.This was a very good novel – but as I said, my (very) high expectations led me to feel a little let down by it. I’d still recommend it to anyone who likes complex mysteries and a 17th-century historical setting.

  • Brooke
    2019-05-09 17:38

    An Instance of the Fingerpost had been on my radar for quite some time before I actually picked it up. It's a critically acclaimed murder mystery that takes place in England right after Cromwell's death and the king's return to the throne (as is the current book I'm reading - I'm not too sure how that happened!). The book is divided into four parts, each part narrated by a different character. The premise is that different people can all see one event and take completely different things from it. Although each narrator covers the exact same event (the murder of Jeremy Grove and subsequent arrest and execution of Sarah Blundy), their perceptions are radically different enough that you never feel like you're reading the same story over and over.I was worried that this was going to be yet another one of those "It's up to you to decide what the truth is" deals (see: Sarah Dunant's Mapping the Edge), but the fourth narrator gives a sense of finality to the entire book. It's also possible to suss out some of what is and isn't true when considering A) inconsistencies in the four stories, B) information that one narrator has that the others don't, and C) the biases and personality of each narrator. One narrator has the tendency to react rashly and foolishly; another is prone to obsession. Most often, books are written so that the narrator's prose is meant to be taken as a reliable truth; this is definitely not the case here.I read Fingerpost in two sittings, with about a month passing between. If I had to do it all over, I wouldn't let that large amount of time go by before finishing it; the book is far more interesting when all the details are fresh in your mind and you can make the tiny connections between each narrator's story. I also think the book is more rewarding upon finishing it and reflecting on it as a whole; I felt only moderately warm about it until I reached the end of the final narration, at which point I felt considerably awestruck (Sarah Waters' Affinity had the same effect, although I felt only less-than-lukewarm about the novel up until the end). One of the bigger surprises for me would probably not surprise a history buff very much, but it's still presented in a neat way that should interest someone who saw it coming.I enjoyed Fingerpost far more than my first Iain Pears novel, A Dream of Scipio (which also bills itself as a murder mystery on its back cover, but is most definitely not). It's given me enough faith in him to check out his others books, which are in a series of "art history mysteries." Pears is an art historian himself, and I'm looking forward to reading something he has considerable knowledge about.

  • lmjohns3
    2019-05-14 12:30

    This mystery, set in England around 1660, is described four times -- once each from the perspectives of four characters, some based on real personalities and others fictitious. The biases, motives, and flaws of the narrators are compelling, to be sure, but what really makes this book click is Pears' thorough understanding of the time, place, and cultural flow in which the story reveals itself.The measured revelation -- and eventual closure -- of what ends up being a complex event, initially disguised as a simple one, really makes this book pop. Pears' comfort and skill at communicating the feel of England at the time, always through the eyes of the narrators, sweeps the reader thoroughly into a different time and place. This is definitely a mystery worth reading, and if your existing knowledge of the political and cultural scene of 17th century England is at all fuzzy like mine, this book will help elucidate and motivate at least some of what was happening in this fantastically interesting time and place in our history.

  • Mike
    2019-05-26 16:33

    This is one of the most well-crafted, meticulously written, daring, busy, fun, and intriguing books I've ever read. It combines shifting points of view, murder, early experiments with blood transfusion, international intrigue, hidden identities, the Restoration and Catholic/Protestant politics, and insanity into a rollicking, erudite, challenging, and delightful read. You'll be amazed at the audacity of the author as he begins his high-wire act, and you'll be even more amazed and gratified when he pulls it off. Very satisfying, this book is an intellectual feast.

  • Aubrey
    2019-04-26 15:45

    This is a good book, don't let the measly three stars tell you any differently. The author juggles the contrasting views of the unreliable narrators with veritable finesse, so the solution to the mystery isn't revealed till the very last pages. However, I do not like unreliable narrators, especially those that largely treat anyone that isn't an affluent man with outright disrespect. So, this was very well-written; I just spent too much time being pissed at the narrators to be bothered to give a more favorable rating.

  • K
    2019-05-01 13:31

    Iain Pears was recommended to me by a highly intelligent academic I know, someone whose opinion I respect when it comes to the intellectual. So I guess it fits that I find his books to be high quality fiction that's excellent and sometimes just a little above my head.I actually liked An Instance of the Fingerpost even better than the previous Iain Pears book I read, Stone's Fall, which I also found enjoyable and impressive and just a bit beyond me at times but not to the point where I couldn't appreciate the reading experience. In An Instance of the Fingerpost, we have four narratives of the same set of events. The first narrator hints that he may be unreliable by letting us know he's leaving out details he finds unimportant, but basically tells a cohesive story which includes a mysterious death. The second narrator casts doubt on the first narrator's version but also, increasingly, on his own. He is followed by a third narrator who does the same, and then a fourth who seems more reliable than the other three (though who knows, really?) and offers some astonishing revelations. Kudos to Iain Pears for pulling off all of these unreliable narrators so masterfully, giving each one their own perspective and area of paranoia and egotism and building the reader's tension and curiosity throughout the book. This book may really deserve a five, and would probably get one from a more intelligent reader. Sadly, the book's length made things difficult for me as I didn't have the luxury of reading it in a few consecutive sittings which would have helped. By the time I started each subsequent narrative, my memories of the earlier ones had faded and it was harder to appreciate the unreliability as a result. Additionally, some of the developments felt above my head which also diminished my engagement at times. Make no mistake, though -- this was a solid four-star read for me. Great story, flesh-and-blood characters, authentic sense of the times, and it kept my interest for 700 pages.

  • Liviu
    2019-04-26 09:40

    short review on 3rd read in 2015:- after Arcadia which the author hyped as a complex novel needing an app and which to me seemed actually a simpler novel than his earlier 3 superb complex multi-layered novels (Instance of the Fingerpost, Dreams of Scipio, Stone's Fall), I decided to reread this one - as the one of the three I last read a while ago (some 10 years ago easily, maybe more) - to see if I maybe remember it wrong after all and Arcadia was indeed more sophisticated; and it turned out that my recollection was right and An Instance of the Fingerpost which I remembered quite accurately and completely, even remembering actual dialogue and text as I turned the pages , is indeed a complex book that needs going carefully through all narratives to appreciate its subtlety and depth; seemingly telling a story in Oxford 1663 about the recent (1660) Restoration and a larger plot surrounding it, a (possible) murder for which an innocent is hanged, a disgraced nobleman and the reverberations of events from a few years ago, the book actually unpacks itself with each narrative (the Venetian, the nobleman's son, the cryptographer and the historian) artfully concealing as much as revealing until the superb ending that ties it all up, while leaving us wondering tooStill awesome on 3read and still highly, highly recommended

  • Jamie
    2019-05-20 14:28

    This is still the gold standard of all historical fiction for me. I've tried to find its equal and haven't come up with it. The four contemporary accountings of the same events, the disagreement between the various witnesses, the lofty intellectual language, the extensive historical accuracy of the period and location... this is just what great historical fiction is supposed to be. I've read several of this author's other works now and they're all good, but this is simply that much better. Fascinating period, great characters, and a very clever, engrossing story told through the various people who were witness to it. A great recipe that few authors have the talent to follow.

  • Lee
    2019-05-23 13:54

    I loved, loved, loved this book.

  • Georgie
    2019-04-29 15:43

    There's a lovely bit in the musical film "Call Me Madam", when a lyrical ballad is succeeded by a contrasting upbeat number - both good - then, miraculously they are sung at the same time, working brilliantly together (watch it here - if you're interested, but ignore Ethel Merman's over-acting). And, in AIotF, Pears carries off the same trick. Four stories - each well told, but completely different personalities and atmospheres. And then - this is the technical tour de force - they are overlaid, wound together, and prove to be complementary threads in an even more complex and interesting tale, leading to an explosive & moving climax.If that were all, I'd admire the book, but perhaps not rate it so highly. What I enjoy is that each part of the whole doesn't read as part of an academic exercise; each story is perfectly rounded, beautifully told, and peopled with fully realised characters. Along the way, Pears brings in many of the key issues of the time - witchcraft, the delight of new scientific discoveries, the complex politics following the Restoration, the uneasy position of Catholicism, and much more. But reading the book, it's the vital perplexing people Pears creates - young Italian Marco di Cola bewildered by English customs, bitter Jack Prescott, the shadowy figure of Sarah Blundy - who capture my imagination.It's long, true, but I've read this twice, and each time I couldn't put it down.

  • Danger Kallisti
    2019-04-27 10:39

    735 pages, and it wasn't even worth one star.For the first hundred pages, the book was so dull that I trudged along, hoping it would get better. It didn't, and by then I was trapped. After that, it stopped being boring and became shockingly offensive instead. The writer killed off the only charismatic character in the book, and showcased the most villainous. In the final segment, a decent character came back into play, and things started looking up – until, that is, the author decided to cheer the reader by introducing the Theology card. The protagonist was reintroduced – as a scion of god.Not only is this bastard a frumpy, misogynistic, boring prick with a dessicatingly dry writing style, he's a stupid Christian to boot. The only good things I can say about this book are that it seemed to be far more thoroughly researched than most historical fiction, and the layout of the book was clever. The same story is retold several different times, from widely varying perspectives, as a way to call into question the idea of “absolute truth”. Neat, but next time I hope he learns not to lay down a concrete foundation just to build a house of shit.

  • Lara
    2019-05-02 11:41

    The conceit of this book -- 4 different narrators each telling his version of the same set of events -- was novel and well-executed, and the rendering of Restoration England was obviously well-researched. However, the story dragged at times as a result of the detailed explorations of 17th-century politics and mannerisms. I would recommend this only to a those with a serious interest in historical fiction.

  • Христо Блажев
    2019-05-26 10:56

    Жертвата е една, но виновните са много:Това е сложен период в британската история (сякаш някой не е, ама хайде). Гражданската война е сякаш приключила, монархията е възстановена, повечето поддръжници на Кромуел са загубили влиянието (че и живота си), само някои са успели да се нагодят към новите реалностти. Страната се променя с бързи стъпки, но това не се отнася до всички области на познанието. Медицината продължава да разчита на неизкоренимата алабалистика на астрологията, а църквата все още има твърде голяма власт и не позволява на науката да укрепне. Оксфорд е бастион на интелектуалната мисъл, но тя все още е твърде окована в религозните рамки, за да започне същинската промяна в живота на хората към добро. Иън Пиърс ни среща с някои от интересните лица на епохата, но основното действие лежи върху плещите на една измислена фигура – венецианеца Марко да Кола, с чийто разказ начева книгата.Orange Books

  • Karen
    2019-05-21 16:50

    Pears offers an historical fiction set in 1663, primarily in the university town, Oxford. For the last few decades, the residents of Oxford (as well as many of the subjects throughout England) are wrestling over questions of religion, politics, and science. Yes, there is a murder to be solved, but there are multiple mysteries within the novel: What is each character's true politics? (Royalist or Cromwell sympathizer?) What is each character's true religious affiliation (Anglican, Catholic, Anabaptist, Quaker, the occult or other?) Where are their primary affections? (To God, country, land deeds, a trade/vocation, a lover, or to simply saving one's hide?)Pears creates a novel that employs four different narrators. They are so different in perspective--and even at time different in fact--that they are almost four distinct novels. Each narrator personifies elements from Sir Francis Bacon's writings on epistemology, or how we know what we know. The first narrator focuses on the quest for truth through the appropriate method: induction or deduction? As a philosopher and physician-in-training, his major obsession is the quest for scientific truth. He rubs shoulders with Boyle, Wren, Locke and some lesser-known scientists and intellectuals as he explores the developing scientific method as a replacement for the a priori truths of classical philosophy. The second narrator focuses on the quest for truth through evidence of trustworthiness or betrayal, the latter requiring revenge. Even though he is a student of law, his narrative demonstrates great emotion and the influence of both angels and demons. The third narrator, a cryptographer, focuses on the quest for truth through prejudice based on nationality, gender, class and vocation. He and the second narrator start with their conclusions and subsequently gather their evidence. The fourth narrator uses a variety of methods for pursuing truths, but I'll leave you to discover his methods and biases since he has the priviledge of going last and revealing many hidden truths--or presenting another version of the truth in contrast or in addition to the three narratives that precede his.Even though this novel is about a specific time and place, it examines age-old questions about epistemology: How can people rid themselves of personal bias? And should they exclude emotions such as love, compassion or even security when they adjudicate narratives or even merely report stand-alone facts (if that's possible) as evidence? How do people handle perspectivity since no one is omniscient? nor is anyone omnipresent? How can we avoid the sad fact that the victors usually write, disseminate, promote and preserve history? Pears does a fabulous job asking these questions about truth-making, and he picks an appropriate historical setting for such questions. I learned a great deal. For example, I do not have the stomach for politics: too much shifting ground. But I applaud Pears for keeping me engaged, for keeping me learning not just about history but about epistemology, and for keeping me guessing for the duration of 600+ pages.

  • Jane
    2019-05-16 09:52

    3.5/5. Well-written tour de force set in Restoration England--17th century.Four "memoirs" written by four of the main characters. All are connected by the same figures and also by the murder of an Oxford don and the execution of a young woman. Each narration is given by a separate character: an Italian medical student; a young man attempting to restore his father's good name; a cryptographer; and an archivist/antiquarian. None of these people is completely reliable; each tells the story as he sees it, often concealing events or distorting or even lying. The first section lays out the story, especially investigation of the murder, then the others tell different points of view and emphasize what seems important to the narrator. After the first section, the story sagged until half way through Part Three and from there on to the end, it was unputdownable. Clues appeared all through but only the sharpest reader would pick them up. Twists and turns in Part Four: entitled ["Instance of the fingerpost" = Reliable witness] were logical but incredible and amazing!I was completely immersed in the England of that period--its politics and religious bigotry. Recommended.

  • Slayde
    2019-05-05 17:37

    An interesting concept, meticulously executed...but it didn't work well for me. The book is split between four narrators, each describing essentially the same set of events from his own perspective. The storyline is relatively interesting, particularly towards the end. But I didn't find any of the four narrators to be particularly compelling and the story ended up feeling slow and disjointed. Also, perhaps due to the book's structure, the revelation felt anticlimactic when it finally arrived. Finally, the murder mystery played only a supporting role. In fact, I found I didn't care who did it after reading about a third of this sizable novel.