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An Instance of the Fingerpost    by Iain Pears order for
Instance of the Fingerpost
by Iain Pears
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 1999 (1997)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

An Instance of the Fingerpost gives lovers of historical fiction a bedazzling view of early Restoration England. Events surrounding the death of an Oxford don are presented through the writings of four people. Each account both unravels and deepens the mystery, while also providing an almost exhaustive account of daily life. We are taken into all levels of society and learn about everything from exciting breakthroughs in scientific discoveries to the manners, morals and religious battles of the times.

Since much of the action takes place in and around Oxford, it serves as a paradigm for the larger society. Burning scholarly discussions, a gradual unfolding of medical knowledge, the competition between older folkways, witchcraft and traditional religion are all part of this tumultuous cauldron of events. Philosophical discussions contrast mightily with brutal physical descriptions of experiments - this book is not for the squeamish!

This is all set in context of the political scene, which extends from the warden of the shire of Oxford clear to London and the closest advisors to the king. We see how everyone jockeys for position and how much strategy is necessary before making the least move. What with Cromwell's rule newly overturned by the Restoration, this particular period in English history was ripe with plots and counterplots. At times these are difficult to follow in the novel, particularly since all loose ends are not tied up.

The one caveat I have with the story is the lack of voice. Though we apprehend the four different points of view provided, we know them only intellectually as individuals. Their writing is formal and educated and differs little from one to another. Another difficulty for readers is the overwhelming detail of it all; over seven hundred pages covers a lot of territory. That aside, my book group loved this novel and especially admired the complexity the author was able to build in to a rich read that provides much fodder for discussion and speculation.

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