**spoiler alert** An Instance of the Fingerpost is one of those novels I always recommend--it's complex, compelling, and even though it's a historical**spoiler alert** An Instance of the Fingerpost is one of those novels I always recommend--it's complex, compelling, and even though it's a historical novel about blood transfusions, it feels modern and contemporary. So I don't know why it took me so long to discover that Pears wrote another mystery, using the same narrative structure as Instance, that takes place (mostly) in 19th century England and Venice.
I strongly doubt, though, that SF will be as popular as Instance. There's less gore in this one--far, far fewer suspenseful blood transfusions and autopsies--and fewer narrators, as well. This narrative is also less complexly layered. In Instance, each new chapter proposes an alternate solution to the central mystery. That doesn't happen as seamlessly in Stone's Fall, but then the mystery in SF is also less mysterious from the beginning. There is less doubt that Stone was murdered and fewer suspects to guess from. Instead of setting up multiple characters to have motives, Pears makes it so that one can’t really imagine anyone killing Stone.
But for all that, SF is a really great book. The characters are compelling, the voices differentiated, and the plot complex enough to keep one guessing. And on top of that, Pears’s account of the rise of the international military industry, the devastating effects of free-market capitalism on conventional belief systems, and the complexity of modern global economics, is just plain good. The nineteenth century financial revolution he describes seems eerily prescient, given the recent meltdown of our own global markets. The repeated discussions of money—-where it is going, where it has been, how it is hidden, and how it is used—-might become tedious to some after a while, there’s no doubt. But that’s also part of Pears’s point: financial schemes on the scale created by Stone and others become dangerous because we aren’t paying close enough attention. It is when we get bored—-tired out by talk of derivatives and bonds—-that huge amounts of money are made. Stone benefits, for example, because Macintyre completely loses interest in the proprietorship of his own patent. The rules of behavior that supposedly governed, limited, and controlled industry (the female as the moral compass, gentlemanly conduct in business deals, Christian charity towards the unfortunate) almost completely deteriorate, to the point where even the most basic and fundamental taboos are broken. If Stone repeatedly argues throughout the novel that governments exist for the purpose of allowing industry to flourish (even when that industry involves selling weapons to the enemy), that moral is tarnished by the end, when he attempts to draw a direct line of cause and effect between his actions in Venice and the breakdown of his marriage.
On the whole, I think Instance is a better novel—-it is more cohesive and more complex. But this one, for me, is more resonant. There’s no doubt we’re still grappling with the questions about religion and science that Instance raises, but many of those questions now seem philosophical rather than concrete. Not so with Stone’s Fall.
**spoiler alert** I sometimes get asked for book recommendations and to be honest I rarely have a good response. I don't mind recommending books if I**spoiler alert** I sometimes get asked for book recommendations and to be honest I rarely have a good response. I don't mind recommending books if I know what people like, but there's a wide range of tastes out there and what works for me might not work for someone else. That said, I do have a very short list of books that I would, without hesitation, recommend to anyone who loves reading, regardless of what genres he/she prefers. And Cloud Atlas is on it. It's one of those books that you wish someone had told you about years ago.
Mitchell's books get talked about a lot for how ground-breaking they are in terms of structure (Tom Bissell, I'm looking at you!). I'll agree with you, Tom, that not so many novelists choose to break up a story and spread it over a 1000 year time span and six different narrators. But at the point when you claim that Mitchell's innovative structure makes us wonder "to what end things are being moved," you and I have to part ways, I'm afraid. For myself, at least, there doesn't really need to be a point to innovative narrative structure. It's just interesting to see what happens, I think, when a novelist disrupts the way we typically process a narrative. And it's even more interesting to see what happens when a novelist makes innovative narrative structures seem more compelling and enjoyable than anything else out on the market.
It is telling, I think, that Cloud Atlas is a novel in which a reader is simultaneously being constantly reminded of the very act of reading, even while the narratives themselves work to make the reader forget reading as a process. Each of the narratives nests within the others, and each one highlights or emphasizes reading repeatedly. The first story is a diary, the second story is a series of letters, the third is a manuscript, the fourth is a journal (in which the manuscript from story three is read) . . . you simply cannot get away from determined acts of reading in this novel. Every where you turn, practically, someone is reading. But for all that, it becomes very, very easy to forget that you are, in fact, reading a series of nested stories and to become completely lost in each new voice Mitchell presents. While enjoying the misadventures of Timothy Cavendish, the diary of Adam Ewing slips away, forgotten. And ditto for Timonthy Cavendish once Somni 451 begins her own tale. By the time you reach Zachry, it's downright difficult to remember this is a work of fiction.
Cloud Atlas isn't necessarily a book for everyone--it's a little bit Bertie Wooster, a smidgen of Blade Runner, and a pinch of M is for Murder. There's even something in there for fans of slapstick retirement home humor/One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. It's an odd mix of stories that undoubtedly won't appeal to a quite a lot of consumers. But for people who delight in the sheer joy of reading, Cloud Atlas should be at the top of the list. ...more
Generally, when a book starts out with a chapter entitled "I Am A Corpse," you know it's going to be pretty good.
The novel is set up so that each chaGenerally, when a book starts out with a chapter entitled "I Am A Corpse," you know it's going to be pretty good.
The novel is set up so that each chapter introduces a different narrator, including (but not limited to), Black, Black's uncle, Shekure, a dog, a horse, the murderer and various artists in the workshop. This type of structure for a mystery novel isn't new--Wilkie Collins, for example, employed it several times, most notably in The Moonstone--and it is an effective way to structure a story so as to hide the whodunit. Each character only tells as much as he, she or it knows and in Pamuk's novel even the murderer hides his or her identity.
The structure in "My Name Is Red," though is less designed to sustain suspense and more to allow room for the various philosophical discussions concerning the purpose of art and, perhaps more importantly, the distinctions between Islamic states and Western Europe. The Frankish mode of painting, particularly of portraiture--to glorify the subject, to paint him or her in terms of his/her earthly wealth and power, to distribute such an image openly as a show of control, to demonstrate the creative abilities of the artist--is at the center of these debates and discussions. Black's uncle finds such images alluring and fascinating while others see them as abhorent. Master Osman, for example, sees himself as being forced to choose between the centuries old Islamic traditions he venerates and the more modern and distinctly foreign style he despises. Such a choice is not made easily, as the artists themselves discover. The Frankish method celebrates the individuation of the artist--it prizes the signature of the artist as much as the commissioner of the image. This reverence for the artist, as much as for the piece of art, proves to be a great temptation to the men involved and leads directly to the murder.
The structure, however, also allows for a second discussion, not about art but about writing on art. As much as this is a novel concerning visual images, it is also a novel about ekphrasis--the verbal description of art. Ekphrasis has the effect of slowing down a narrative, of interrupting it. Thus, in Homer's Illiad, the great battle scene is suddenly punctured by a lengthy description of Achilles' shield. Pamuk plays with this model repeatedly. When the image of the horse, described several times in the novel, is given a voice of its own the narrative is not interrupted, but rather the description of the image becomes the narrative. And, moreover, as the image speaks it refutes the fundamental principles underlying Master Osman's devotion to Islamic traditions of art. Pamuk can hardly resist the joke--this is a novel about art in which not a single image appears, except the map at the beginning and the ones we create in our minds as we imagine the images described. But, are we creating an image of the ideal horse, the horse of God, or one we can actually touch, taste, and smell?...more
Safe Area Gorazde isn't an objective account of the war in Bosnia, nor is it so biased as to render the reader skeptical or disbelieving. It does, howSafe Area Gorazde isn't an objective account of the war in Bosnia, nor is it so biased as to render the reader skeptical or disbelieving. It does, however, question the very nature of being a reporter (or cartoonist) in a situation such as a civil war. Sacco repeatedly discusses the ethics of his role as a documenter, as well as the actions of other reporters who remain in Gorazde. Sacco's point seems to be that ultimately you cannot really know Gorazde and the situation there and yet remain objective about the conflict. That is, understanding the civil war in Bosnia necessitates that you forsake a central tenet of professional journalism. Whether you agree with him or not on this, his book at the very least forces us to ask what we really want out of our news reporting....more