Book Review: Getaways Far, Far Away

Summer reading recommendations that will take you out of this world

Getaways Far, Far Away

Everything old is new again, vice versa, and simultaneously in Iain Pears' sumptuous tangle of a book, Arcadia: A Novel. While Pears' earlier novels – An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Dream of Scipio, Stone's Fall – have been mysteries structured around historical events, Arcadia concerns itself with a vaster multiverse. In 1960s Oxford, Professor Lytten is embarking on his first novel: a Tolkien-esque epic set in Anterwold, a pastoral world of his own invention, shaped by Elizabethan and medieval iconography. As Lytten pens the first couple of chapters of his opus – in which a young woman based on his neighbor and erstwhile cat-sitter, Rosie, finds a Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe-esque door into his fantasy land – the real Rosie appears to find a portal to Anterwold in Lytten's basement. There she meets the protagonist of Lytten's book, a young scholar named Jay, whose destiny may or may not depend on the whims of his novelist. On top of it all, in the distant and ever-so-slightly-dystopian future, the psychomathematician Angela Meerson has created a coveted time machine and has sent herself and more than one research assistant into the past to prove that history tends to bend toward a single narrative regardless of cosmetic changes.

Pears' love of genre and capacity for rich language is palpable. Where he shies away from ornate description, he proffers four distinct protagonists you feel eager to follow all through space and time. For those in search of concrete answers, Arcadia's joyful rat's nest of realties may prove unsatisfying, but for those with a Holmesian hunger for investigation and a certain comfort with the gray areas (Do we tend toward self-fulfilling prophesies? Is time a straight line or a big mess?), there's plenty to uncover and devour.

Arcadia: A Novel

by Iain Pears
Alfred A. Knopf, 510 pp., $27.95
  • Getaways Far, Far Away

    Summer reading recommendations that will take you out of this world
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Summer Reading, Iain Pears, science fiction / fantasy, Summer Reading 2016

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