I recently read Arcadia, by Iain Pears. It’s a good book, a great book even, but I still have mixed feelings about it.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
Three interlocking worlds. Four people looking for answers. But who controls the future—or the past?
In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is attempting to write a fantasy novel that forgoes the magic of his predecessors, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He finds an unlikely confidante in his quick-witted, inquisitive young neighbor Rosie. One day, while chasing Lytten’s cat, Rosie encounters a doorway in his cellar. She steps through and finds herself in an idyllic, pastoral land where Storytellers are revered above all others. There she meets a young man who is about to embark on a quest of his own—and may be the one chance Rosie has of returning home. These breathtaking adventures ultimately intertwine with the story of an eccentric psychomathematician whose breakthrough discovery will affect all of these different lives and worlds.
Dazzlingly inventive and deeply satisfying, Arcadia tests the boundaries of storytelling and asks: If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly alter the past?
It’s got a dystopic future, a Narnia-like pastoral land, and 1960’s England – all the best things – rolled into one story. The way you are introduced to the effect of a character’s choices before you see the action occur is clever. The way the narrative coils in upon itself as you read is brilliant.
But – but – I spent the whole time thinking, “I’m not smart enough to read this book,” and wishing I could read it in one go rather than in bits and parts in between all the other things I have to do. Arcadia is a book that demands things of you. Your time, your undivided attention. And that’s not bad, in case I’m making it sound bad. But, if you’re going to read it, do it when you have a solid block of time to devote to it. It’s not a book to pick up for 15 minutes on your break, or for half an hour before bed.
Interestingly, the book was written to be read as an app for iPhone and iPad. You can read the ten strands of the narrative separately and each is a complete story. You can read bits of each – whatever you like. I think this format would have better fit my needs and made the experience more enjoyable.
Should you read it? Absolutely. At first it sounds like a weird kitchen-sink mish-mash of sci-fi and fantasy, but it absolutely works in the end.