An Instance of the Fingerpost – Iain Pears

Now, I thought this book was better known than it seems to be, possibly because my dad has been banging on about it for a while, but also because I’ve seen it on desks in the office. Several well-read friends have never heard of it though, so it’s possible that it is a bit of a secret. This would be a great shame, because it is an excellent book and you should read it.

Since you haven’t heard of it, the novel takes the form of four histories of the same events in Oxford in the early 1660s, concerning a murder and an execution. Each of the narrators is more or less unreliable in their interpretation of the facts of the case but to say much more would spoil the effect.

Being set during the Restoration, there is much to do with Catholic-Protestant/Royalist-Parliamentary angst, and also plenty of early natural philosophy and the role of God in the working of nature viz spirits at work among men and also a healthy dose of those natural urges. Some of the class prejudice and sexism is a bit hard to swallow, but it is probably realistic enough (and it deals with those too).

The main characters are all striking, and I suspect they will stay with me for a long time. The back cover promises two things – that you’ll want to tell everyone about it, which is true, and that it combines the best of Agatha Christie and Umberto Eco, which is nonsense, as it’s much better than either.

See also:

Baroque Cycle – Neal Stephenson. Yeah, it’s up there with that.

Rashomon – Kurosawa. Actually watched this yesterday, unutterably tedious.

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