Jim Leffert's Reviews > Stone's Fall

Stone's Fall by Iain Pears
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Oct 17, 2009

really liked it
Read in October, 2009

With The Instance of the Fingerpost, Pears created a new kind of masterwork—a historical novel constructed intricately to work like clockwork, which glides sequentially from one subjective narrator to another, so that each section unveils new explanations that upend the previous narrator’s picture of the characters’ motivations and actions . Moreover, this novel draws the reader deep into a historical era’s skullduggery and political and geopolitical machinations. A subsequent novel, The Dream of Scipio, presented three stories, spanning 15 centuries. Continuously inter-cutting from one story to another, that book intertwined the three human dramas as it depicted the political and ideological backdrop of each story and era.

Pears’ latest novel, Stone’s Fall, is as ambitious as An Instance of the Fingerpost. Three sequential sections, each with a different narrator, piece together a story that continues from 1867 until 1910 (the sections are in reverse chronological order). The mystery to be explored (as introduced years later in the early 1950’s) is why British titan of industry John Stone plummeted from the window of his town home 1909. Was it an accident? Suicide? Was he pushed? Stone’s alluring and mysterious widow hires a crime reporter from a London newspaper not to solve this mystery, but rather to tie up a serious loose end that is critical for unblocking the disposition of Stone’s estate. The reporter is seriously mesmerized by the widow (leading me to wonder at times if the book was going to turn out to be a remake of The French Lieutenant’s Woman), but the twists and turns of their relationship merely set off the labyrinthine plot.

As if A Tale of Two Cities was insufficient, Pears gives us three—London, Paris, and Venice--plus side visits to the provinces. The book is a rich brew that includes not only the characters’ personal dramas, but also crises in the British and European financial system (in this respect, the book is a sequel to Levenson’s Newton and the Counterfeiters), industrial and technological history of the late 19th and early 20th century military industrial complex (a la Richard Powers), geopolitical machinations, scandal, skullduggery, and many other ingredients that convey a sense of time and place. At times, the characters go into overdrive in order to advance the intricacies of the plot, and the book offers an improbable ending that left me disappointed, but Stone’s Fall is an absorbing and rewarding read nonetheless.
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