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An Instance of the Fingerpost

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  15,935 ratings  ·  902 reviews
Fictional Novel, Literary Fiction
Hardcover, 691 pages
Published March 16th 1998 by Riverhead Books (first published 1997)
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Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenBeloved by Toni MorrisonYear of Wonders by Geraldine  BrooksFlow Down Like Silver by Ki Longfellow
Best Literary Historical Fiction
14th out of 285 books — 57 voters
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Twisted Tales
304th out of 340 books — 340 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”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 XXI

 photo OliverCromwell_zps5a3a74d5.jpg
Oliver Cromwell, not really relevant to this book exc
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Chris
Aug 21, 2007 Chris rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with a brain
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.
Sue
Jul 13, 2013 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all readers of historical fiction
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
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Wealhtheow
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.
Maciek
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
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Kalliope
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 fabric
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Scott
Apr 30, 2007 Scott rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historical fiction and mystery lovers
Shelves: fiction
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.
Jim
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
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Brooke
Jun 12, 2007 Brooke rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of intellectual thrillers
Shelves: own, mystery
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 ...more
Jared
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.
Althea Ann
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 – ...more
Leif
May 15, 2008 Leif rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: folks who haven't gotten into historical fiction yet
Shelves: mystery
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 disg
...more
emily
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.
Mike
Dec 11, 2008 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who loves reading, especially historical fiction
Recommended to Mike by: Dr. Marti Head
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 ...more
Aubrey
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
K
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 a
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Jamie
Feb 15, 2008 Jamie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to see how good fiction can be.
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. Fasci ...more
Danger Kallisti
Feb 12, 2008 Danger Kallisti added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: desperate historical fiction fans
Shelves: crap-just-crap
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Slayde
Jul 15, 2007 Slayde rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fanatics
Shelves: summer2007
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. Fi ...more
Lara
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.
Tim Youker
Jul 07, 2009 Tim Youker rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dabblers in English history and early modern lit.
Imagine a cross between "Rashomon" and the Diary of Samuel Pepys, with a dash of Umberto Eco, and you'll have some idea of what this book is like. It's by no means perfect (the identity of the killer is actually revealed with over a hundred pages left to go), but it's still an engrossing read, and a fine use the unreliable narrator device.
Karen
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, Anaba ...more
Luke Goldstein
Apr 05, 2007 Luke Goldstein rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Victorian fans
I found this book a tad slow in the beginning, but as you move along you'll find that the world created within is incredible in its detail. The main shock came somewhere around page 180 (this isn't a spoiler, don't worry) when the story being told came to an end. I wondered if 420 pages of epilogue was a little overdone, but i found that the book is actually broken into four parts with four different characters telling their versions of the same series of events. The pieces slowly come together ...more
Wendy
Jul 24, 2009 Wendy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wendy by: Wanda!
Shelves: 2009-reads
I enjoyed the idea of this book - a "murder mystery" told from the viewpoint of 4 different characters. I wanted to give this book 3.5 stars though. I sort of got lost in all the historical background...at times not knowing who was on whose side! I guess I'm just not that familiar with the political and religious background of this time and it tripped me up a lot while reading this book.

If all the men were like the characters in this book, then I'm glad I didn't live in that time period! The 2 q
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Genevieve
Jun 20, 2015 Genevieve rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who enjoyed The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Recommended to Genevieve by: Sue
* Note: Lots of spoilers in this review, so tread with caution.

Iain Pears digs deep into religion and science in this compelling period mystery set in Oxford, England in 1663. An Instance of the Fingerpost is the kind of lengthy, slow burn of a book that reveals itself only to the most observant and committed of readers, but with an explosive payoff that's well worth the wait. The book is lengthy, and the time period obscure for most contemporary readers, so be ready to jump in with a strong sto
...more
Kirsty Darbyshire

The opinions I've come across on this book are divided pretty evenly between 'couldn't read it' and 'absolutely loved it' - no one seems to end up on the middle ground. I thought the lack of averageness was as good a reason to read it as any, and besides, it sounded fascinatingly different from the mysteries I generally devour.

The story is divided into four separate narratives; each detailing some of the same events from another point of view, each adding to and changing the reader's idea of wh

...more
Matt Brady
A fantastic story of deception and delusion in Reformation England. Concerning an eventful few months in Oxford in 1663, as told in epistolary form by four men; Marco de Cola, an amateur physician and son of a wealthy Venetian merchant; Jack Prescott, a young lawyer-in-training determined to clear the name of his traitor father; John Wallis, famed mathematician and cryptographer; and Anthony Wood, an aspiring historian with a deep love of books.

My only criticism is the slow start, but in retrosp
...more
Barry King
This was an extraordinary book, and very modern in its antiquity. What do I mean? It's the fact that this is four unreliable narrators describing events surrounding a presumed murder. Each of them inserts, omits, misunderstands, or simply invents details. An interesting complication to this narration is that each has read the previous version and chooses to re-interpret or set aright the previous narrator's version of events. In this way it is ultra-modern in style, practically an essay in postm ...more
Margaret Sankey
Told in four parts from separate first-person narrators, this is a dazzling historical novel set in the immediate aftermath of the English Civil War, plotted so that you willingly believe each person in turn and only really click together the whole story at the very end. Pears has the atmosphere of 1660 London down cold and foggy, and includes enough real historical characters to please 17th century history folk like me.
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Iain Pears is an English art historian, novelist and journalist. He was educated at Warwick School, Warwick, Wadham College and Wolfson College, Oxford. Before writing, he worked as a reporter for the BBC, Channel 4 (UK) and ZDF (Germany) and correspondent for Reuters from 1982 to 1990 in Italy, France, UK and US. In 1987 he became a Getty Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Yale University. His ...more
More about Iain Pears...
Stone's Fall The Dream of Scipio The Raphael Affair (Jonathan Argyll, #1) The Titian Committee (Jonathan Argyll, #2) The Portrait

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“In my small way, I preserved and catalogued, and dipped into the vast ocean of learning that awaited, knowing all the time that the life of one man was insufficient for even the smallest part of the wonders that lay within. It is cruel that we are granted the desire to know, but denied the time to do so properly. We all die frustrated; it is the greatest lesson we have to learn.” 12 likes
“The devil himself can become beauty, so we are told, to corrupt mankind."
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