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What We’re Reading: Arcadia

TDW: The Hugos have come and gone, and by all accounts the best novel won. Personally I prefer the Clarke Awards mostly because it focuses on science fiction. This year’s line up doesn’t appear to be particularly overwhelming, though of course Children of Time was a delight to read. None of the other books seem particularly appealing, except Arcadia, and the only reason I picked it up was the great review it received on The Complete Review. So having only read two books from the selection, I can safely say of those nominated Arcadia deserves to win.

First and foremost it’s because the author, Iain Pears, is an accomplished writer and it really adds to his credence. Iain Pears loves to play with narrative structure. With his latest novel, Arcadia, he seems to have taken it one step further. The most interesting thing about the book is that it is both a novel and an app. The latter allows for fluidity between the story arcs of all the characters; for example, you can follow one characters story, and then another, as opposed to chronologically. Constructed as a novel it still works magnificently. To me this would suggest that deliberate structural choices – that is, the choices of the artist – are integral to the beauty of a given piece of work.

ArcadiaPears is clearly a master storyteller, and trying his hand at spec fic has allowed him to have further room to explore all the ins and outs of plot, narrative and story. We ‘begin’ in early 20th century Britain where Henry Lytten is writing a fantasy novel. Then we skip between a future world and a more medieval civilisation. It all works together in such an intricate and finely tuned way, each chapter launching itself from the previous one and slowly building the book layer by layer. This is a story of multiple perspectives, varied voices and a mesh of genres (sci fi, fantasy, spy thriller, romance). Somehow it all comes together to produce one of the most mesmerising reads I have experienced in a very long time. It’s quite a long read, but it won’t feel like it; Pears does not waste time and everything is in place for a reason.

It isn’t just this masterwork in structure the compels, as the rest of the book holds up. It made me laugh, it brought me close to tears and it made me connect with the characters, all of whom are fully realised. And the philosophy! Iain touches on such light topics as free will and time travel, loyalty and love. It is with zero hesitation that I can place this firmly in my top ten favourite books that I have ever read. To quote Mr. Orthofer, this book is ‘exceptionally good fun; very nicely and cleverly woven-together story’. Fun is definitely pertinent.

Despite this being a fantastic example of ‘literary’ spec fic, it never drags and its entire mission is to enliven the reader experience. Given that The Book of Strange New Things failed to win a Clarke, I hope that Arcadia succeeds.

 

Choice quote:

…through an extraordinary feat of imagination, he had taken the very worst of communism and the very worst of capitalism and fused them together into a monstrous whole.