Three narratives, set in the fifth, fourteenth, and twentieth centuries, all revolving around an ancient text and each with a love story at its centre, are the elements of this brilliantly ingenious novel, a follow-up to the international bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost.
Now Ian Pears returns with a greatly anticipated novel, so expertly imagined and perfectly constructed the author himself describes it as “a complexity.”
The centuries are the 5th (the final days of the Roman Empire); the 14th (the years of the Plague — the Black Death); and the 20th (World War II). The setting for each is the same — Provence — and each has at its heart a love story. The narratives intertwine seamlessly, and what joins them thematically is an ancient text — “The Dream of Scipio” — a work of neo-Platonism that poses timeless philosophical questions. What is the obligation of the individual in a society under siege? What is the role of learning when civilization itself is threatened, whether by acts of man or nature? Does virtue lie more in engagement or in neutrality? “Power without wisdom is tyranny; wisdom without power is pointless,” warns one of Pears’s characters.
The Dream of Scipio is a bona fide novel of ideas, a dazzling feat of storytelling, fiction for our times.
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Like his elegant debut, An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears's The Dream of Scipio is an inventive, gloriously detailed historical novel told from multiple viewpoints. But Pears has set himself an additional challenge by spreading his narrators over several centuries: there's the fifth century French nobleman and bishop, Manlius, a civilized man who has embraced the uncouth Christian faith in order to protect what he holds dear; an 11th-century scholar and troubadour named Olivier de Noyen, the famously ill-fated admirer of a married girl; and Julien Barneuve, an early 20th-century scholar of de Noyen who discovers, through him, a magnificent manuscript of Manlius's called "The Dream of Scipio." Though all three men come from the same small Provençal town, it is this manuscript, derived from the teachings of a wise woman, that links the three narrative threads of Pears's story. At the heart of The Dream of Scipio and, one suspects, at the heart of its author, is the conflict between a classical ideal of learning and the contemplation of beauty, and the noisy, uncivilized, democratizing impulses of the Christian era. A novel of ideas like its predecessor, The Dream of Scipio is neither chilly nor didactic and doesn't shy away from depicting the costs of its narrators' unpopular devotions. --Regina MarlerFrom the Back Cover:
"Iain Pears aims high in his novels. The Dream of Scipio (Knopf), his latest, encompasses three narratives set hundreds of years apart in the same tiny corner of Provence, all three variations on a theme -- what is a civilized man to do when the barbarians are at the gate? And Pears pulls it off in a virtuoso display of craftsmanship that brings the stories, at the same rapidly building pace, to their very different, but subtly linked, conclusions." -- Maclean’s
"A dazzling triptych of love and ideas…. Pears's finest book yet, even more successful and riveting than its predecessor….. [I]mmensely readable, fast-moving, and full of wonderful juxtapositions…. Take a chance on this odd book. Youll be very glad you did." -- Boston Globe
"Pears' elaborate narrative triptych is dazzling for its structure, its complexity, and the richness of thought that gives it texture. But, finally, it is the passion of the love stories, undercutting bloodless philosophy while embracing the messiness of life, that lets the novel soar." -- Booklist (starred review)
" The Dream of Scipio is complex, surprising and thought-provoking, a dream of a novel in more senses than one. " -- The Wall Street Journal
"English writer Iain Pears possesses that wildly rare quality displayed only by writers like A.S. Byatt in Possession or Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose: the ability to be both extraordinarily erudite and thoroughly capable of writing a novel that the intellectually unwashed can enjoy…. Pears makes you think and want to learn more. This is not escapist literature but educational in the very best sense of the word…. Pears has the ability to create characters who are immediately recognizable…. this novel is worth your time." -- USA Today
“If the highest test of a work of imaginative literature is whether it can make you think and feel at the same time, this novel passes it…If a better novel is published this year and carries off the Booker and other prizes, I shall be amazed.” -- The Scotsman
“It is difficult to know where to begin in praising the achievement of this rigorous but infinitely beguiling book. The novel of ideas has been moribund for quite some time, but Pears breathes rude life into the genre with an epic that echoes the achievements of Robert Graves and André Gide. The balance between the key questions of existence and the passionate, life-affirming solidity that the author grants to his characters is impeccable, and all three protagonists are forcefully characterised…But above all, this is a piece of storytelling that almost redefines the very notion of the art: luminescent entertainment by a master, even more impressive than An Instance of the Fingerpost, the book which first drew attention to Pears’ highly individual skills.” -- Amazon.co.uk
"Combining the visceral pleasures of a thriller with the more intellectual excitements of a novel of ideas ....beautifully constructed and, for such a cerebrally challenging book, remarkably easy to read." -- The Telegraph (London)
Praise for An Instance of the Fingerpost
“Every sentence in the book is as solid as a brick -- and as treacherous as quicksand… Iain Pears has written an impressively original and audaciously imaginative intellectual thriller.” -- The Washington Post Book World
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Book Description Isis Audio Books, 2002. Book Condition: Good. Unabridged. N/A. Ships from the UK. Former Library book. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP88418808