Monday, February 8, 2016

Arcadia by Iain Pears (2016)

You know that end of Chronicles of Narnia, in The Last Battle when Susan turns her back on Narnia in favor of "nylons and lipsticks."  I hate The Last Battle for many reasons; this is just one.  Iain Pears doesn't exactly re-write Susan's life, but he does give us a taste of a Susan-like girl, Rosalind, who likes nylons and Elvis, is smart but squashed down by conventionality, who stumbled into a fantasy-land and then kicks-ass.  Of all the characters in Iain Pears's Arcadia, she is far and away my favorite.

A close second is Angela Meerson, the psychomathematician from the future, who interacts delightfully with early 1960s England.  She's chic and calculated, cool as a cucumber, and a genius.  The interactions between Rosie and Angela are pure joy, in this perplexing and convoluted (in a good way though) novel.  Pears was content in writing a dystopia of The Hunger Games variety; rather he's mashed up dystopia, science fiction, fantasy, and thrown in some John le Carré Cold War thriller espionage to spice it up even more.  Even Tolkien and Lewis make appearances, albeit just out of scene.  

There is a lot going on there, almost more than one book could handle, but really, that just made it all the more fun.  

The book really reminded me of Connie Willis; because of the time travel elements.  Also, some of it is really witty - quite funny.

ArcadiaArcadia by Iain Pears
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If like me, you are anxiously waiting for the next Connie Willis book (and it's out who-knows-when), then Arcadia by Iain Pears can stand-in for a rollicking good read in her place. Pears isn't content with writing a The Hunger Games style dystopia; he takes the now almost tired trope of the other side of the end of the world, adds some smart science fiction, some delightful fantasy, and dose of John le Carré Cold War espionage and ends up with at times thrilling, at other times witty novel; there's also a great and puzzling mystery and the plots zigs and zags literally through time and place. What's Willis-ian about the novel is the time travel setting and plot (I don't want to give too much away though, and spoil the mystery), the humor (like little pin pricks throughout the book) and especially the characters. Two of them stand out: Angela Meerson, a 1960s chic, cool as cucumber, stylish and brilliant psychomathematician (you have to read the book to understand what that even means), and Rosie, a 15 year old girl that would have been kicked out of Narnia for her love of Elvis and boys, who Pears allows to be adolescent and funny and bossy and terrific. If you like your genre straight, then you'll hate this cocktail. If you don't mind some genre-bending, dive it!

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