Arcadia

  • by Iain Pears
  • Narrated by John Lee, Jayne Entwistle
  • 20 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From the author of the international best seller An Instance of the Fingerpost, Arcadia is an astonishing work of imagination.
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?

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What the Critics Say

"Not so much a novel as a cornucopia of narratives.... As a novelist, Iain Pears doesn't repeat himself, and he gives with a generous hand." (The Spectator)
"Extremely clever but, better than that, immensely entertaining.... Pears almost seamlessly merges genres of fantasy, sci-fi, spy thriller, romance, and more." (The Oxford Times)
"A fantastical extravaganza.... A complex time-travelling, world-hopping caper with insistently epic stakes." (The Guardian)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Delightful genre fiction mash-up

Is this novel adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, murder mystery, espionage thriller, dystopian speculation? The answer is yes. It’s actually all of those things. As the description says, we begin with Henry Lytten, gratefully retired from the British intelligence service and now living (in 1962) in Oxford, where he is noodling with writing a fantasy novel of Anterwold, an arcadian world, and one that he hopes will be better than those created by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

In Anterwold, the young peasant, Jay, experiences a visitation from a lady mysteriously conjured from nothingness. This vision will change his life and Anterwold.

Lytten’s teenage neighbor, Rosie, comes to feed the cat and have a chat with him, as usual, and becomes entangled in Lytten’s fantasy world. At the same time, one of Henry’s old intelligence comrades comes calling and asks him (though there’s never really an “ask” in that world) to take on one more assignment crucial to the Cold War then raging.

In another thread of the story, Angela Meerson is an eccentric genius in a dystopian future where all of society is rigidly controlled, except for exiled renegades, who scrape out an existence without the resources provided by the establishment, but also without the drugs that turn people into drudges. Angela is working on a machine that was supposed to generate infinite parallel worlds, but she suspects it will actually prove the possibility of time travel.

Though the interweaving of all these story threads is complex, it doesn’t seem so at all while you’re reading. This is a deceptively simple and straightforward story, and one with a large cast of winning characters.

This is a long book, but the stories stay engaging in their separate ways. Then, in the last quarter or so, Pears masterfully brings all the threads together in an exciting and delightful climax.

Iain Pears is a fascinating writer because all of his books are so different from each other. His other titles, like An Instance of the Fingerpost and Stone’s Fall, have weightier themes, but Arcadia is fun to read and may appeal to a broader audience.

A note about the audiobook: The principal reader is John Lee. Lee seems to be everywhere in audiobooks, and I am probably in the minority when I say that’s unfortunate. I’ve reached the point where I can barely stand to hear his voice. It’s oily, pompous and he doesn’t have a good sense of tone or cadence. Jayne Entwistle reads the Angela Meerson chapters. Entwistle is the reader for the Flavia de Luce novels and I think is more suited to younger characters’ voices. I didn’t object to her in this novel, but I don’t think she was the best choice for an older woman like Meerson.
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- Maine Colonial 🌲

Great story, unfortunate choice of narrator (Lee)

If you could sum up Arcadia in three words, what would they be?

Such a fun story! Time-hopping, world hopping! Social commentary with a light-ish touch. An interesting discussion of the ways societies organize themselves, the benefits and the difficulties. Also, an interesting way to look at how our perceptions are limited by the times/places we live in. I enjoyed Jayne Entwistle's performance. John Lee, on the other hand, drove me to buy the book and read the second half in print. I guess he was trying to distinguish different male characters, but the result is some unendurably cartoon-like voices.


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- Ms.

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-09-2016
  • Publisher: Random House Audio