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An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
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An Instance of the Fingerpost (original 1997; edition 1998)

by Iain Pears

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,0881111,237 (3.94)1 / 233
Member:jhowell
Title:An Instance of the Fingerpost
Authors:Iain Pears
Info:Riverhead Books (1998), Hardcover, 691 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:literary mystery

Work details

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (1997)

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    ehines: Both interesting contemporary books set amidst the scientific enlightenment, Pears is a bit more historical where Stephenson is more flashily contemporary, but fans of one certainly should look at the other.
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English (103)  French (3)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  Russian (1)  All languages (111)
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
Complex historical mystery, wayyy more of it was based on fact (or, more precisely, wayyy more of the characters were real-life people than I thought). Took a little patience getting through a part about three-quarters of the way through, when I thought I'd figured most of it out, but then it turned out I hadn't, so the last bit was very rewarding. Highly recommended for fans of [a:Umberto Eco|1730|Umberto Eco|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1217498277p2/1730.jpg]'s [b:The Name of the Rose: Including Postscript|119073|The Name of the Rose Including Postscript|Umberto Eco|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1275697083s/119073.jpg|3138328], as it's a similar kind of very thoughtful, intelligent, rather highbrow mystery. ( )
  BraveNewBks | Mar 10, 2016 |
What sticks in my mind about this book is being consumed with fury for 1/4th of it--and then having the following conclusion be the greatest revenge. A really excellent novel with some very unreliable narrators and detailed characterization. I was amazed at how everything fit together by the end. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Well-written tour de force set in Restoration England--17th century.
Four "memoirs" written by four of the main characters. All are connected by the same figures and also by the murder of an Oxford don and the execution of a young woman. Each narration is given by a separate character: an Italian medical student; a young man attempting to restore his father's good name; a cryptographer; and an archivist/antiquarian. None of these people is completely reliable; each tells the story as he sees it, often concealing events or distorting or even lying. The first section lays out the story, especially investigation of the murder, then the others tell different points of view and emphasizes what seems important to the narrator. After the first section, the story sagged until half way through Part Three and from there on to the end, it was unputdownable. Clues appeared all through but only the sharpest reader would pick them up. Twists and turns in Part Four ["Instance of the fingerpost" = Reliable witness] were logical but incredible and amazing!

I was completely immersed in the England of that period and of Cromwellian England before it--politics and religious bigotry. Recommended. ( )
  janerawoof | Feb 20, 2016 |
For ages, everyone told me that ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ is Iain Pears’ best novel. Partly because of this I sort of ‘saved it up’ and held off on reading it for a while. (The other factor in this decision was that this book, even in paperback, weighs about 10 pounds. It’s enough to make me want a Kindle!) But, because of this expectation-of-awesomeness (and maybe a tiny smidgin because of sore wrists?) I was a little bit disappointed. This is definitely Iain Pears’ most ambitious novel – but I didn’t like it the best.

I also wish I’d known in advance that the whole concept of the novel is that you’re going to hear the whole story, repeatedly, from different perspectives. It’s always disappointing when you think (due to the number of pages on the right) that there are many more events to come – and there aren’t. Certainly, seeing the events through a different perspective, there are further revelations… but the ‘that’s it?’ realization was a bit of a let-down.

‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ is a 17th-century British mystery-drama. I’d never heard the term ‘fingerpost,’ but it’s the British term (perhaps quite obviously) for one of those signposts that look like a hand pointing the way to a location. Here, each narrator’s tale seems to point in a somewhat different direction. (And all the narrators are probably-historically-authentic but quite-utterly-despicable people. Get ready to feel icky about spending time in their self-justifying, nasty company.) The first is Marco de Cola, an Italian dandy ostensibly in London to look after his father’s financial interests, but seemingly more interested in pursuing medical experimentation and intellectual pursuits. Second, Jack Prestcott; obsessed with rehabilitating his father’s reputation and overcoming his reputation as the son of a traitor to the realm. Third, John Wallis – a mathematician and cryptographer, and also a religious fanatic. Fourth – Anthony Wood – a socially pathetic man with somewhat-hidden intellectual abilities and an historian. None of them are reliable. Some may be intentionally deceitful. Some may be insane.

The events center around the tale of Sarah Blundy; a poverty-stricken young woman accused of murder; but encompass a host of political machinations and conspiracies, going up to the highest level. Keeping track of all the characters (most of whom are historical figures), their motivations, and the elements that agree and conflict in each of their stories is intellectually stimulating. However, I wasn’t as emotionally drawn in to many of the events as I would’ve liked to be.

However, I’d challenge any reader to fail to feel for Sarah Blundy, caught as she is in a trap not of her own making. More than most books, this vividly brings to light the unenviable situation of simply being a woman without means in this time and place.

This was a very good novel – but as I said, my (very) high expectations led me to feel a little let down by it. I’d still recommend it to anyone who likes complex mysteries and a 17th-century historical setting.
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
A great mystery book that keeps you guessing up until the very end. Told from various characters' perspective, we are forced to ride along with their perceptual bias, and just be patient with only getting the partial story each time. Also, learn about day-to-day life in 17th century Oxford - a wonderfully detailed accounting. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 103 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iain Pearsprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ambrosini, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Biličić, DamirTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Čhaturongkhawāni… Thanatwō̜nTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Engen, BodilTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gračanin, MartinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gurovoj, I.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jakovlev, BožicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johansen, KnutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Khup, NālanthāTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kim, Sŏk-hŭiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindenburg, MiekeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lundborg, GunillaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mader, FriedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Máximo, Maria AliceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martoccia, MaríaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petecka-Jurek, KatarzynaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Petersen, Arne HerløvTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radevic-Stojiljkovic… BranislavaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sabljak, AnaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sarotte, Georges-MichelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tutino, AlfredoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Verduin, VictorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ṿais, BoʻazTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walter, EdithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Historia vero testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriae, magistra vitae.

(History is the witness of the times, the light of truth, the life of memory, the mistress of life.)
             Cicero, De Oratore
A Question of Precedence

There are idols which we call Idols of the Market. For Men associate by Discourse, and a false and improper Imposition of Words strangely possesses the Understanding, for Words absolutely force the Understanding, and put all Things into Confusion.
— Francis Bacon,
Novum Organum Scientarum, Section II,
Aphorism VI
An Instance of the Fingerpost

When in a Search of any Nature the Understanding stands suspended, then instances of the Fingerpost shew the true and inviolable Way in which the Question is to be decided. These Instances afford great Light, so that the Course of the Investigation will sometimes be terminated by them. Sometimes, indeed, these Instances are found amongst that Evidence already set down.>— Francis Bacon,
Novum Organum Scientarum, Section XXXVI,
Aphorism XXI
Dedication
To Ruth
First words
Marco da Cola, gentleman of Venice, respectfully presents his greetings. I wish to recount the journey which I made to England in the year 1663, the events which I witnessed and the people I met, these being, I hope, of some interest to those concerned with curiosity. Equally I intend my account to expose the lies told by those whom I once numbered, wrongly, amongst my friends.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
We are in England in the 1660s. Charles II has been restored to the throne following years of civil war and Oliver Cromwell's short-lived republic. Oxford is the intellectual seat of the country, a place of great scientific, religious, and political ferment. A fellow of New College is found dead in suspicious circumstances. A young woman is accused of his murder. We hear the story of the death from four witnesses; an Italian physician intent on claiming credit for the invention of blood transfusion; the son of an alleged Royalist traitor; a master cryptographer who has worked for both Cromwell and the king; and a renowned Oxford antiquarian. Each tells his own version of what happened. Only one reveals the extraordinary truth. (1-57322-082-5)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0425167720, Mass Market Paperback)

An Instance of the Fingerpost is that rarest of all possible literary beasts--a mystery powered as much by ideas as by suspects, autopsies, and smoking guns. Hefty, intricately plotted, and intellectually ambitious, Fingerpost has drawn the inevitable comparisons to Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and, for once, the comparison is apt.

The year is 1663, and the setting is Oxford, England, during the height of Restoration political intrigue. When Dr. Robert Grove is found dead in his Oxford room, hands clenched and face frozen in a rictus of pain, all the signs point to poison. Rashomon-like, the narrative circles around Grove's murder as four different characters give their version of events: Marco da Cola, a visiting Italian physician--or so he would like the reader to believe; Jack Prestcott, the son of a traitor who fled the country to avoid execution; Dr. John Wallis, a mathematician and cryptographer with a predilection for conspiracy theories; and Anthony Wood, a mild-mannered Oxford antiquarian whose tale proves to be the book's "instance of the fingerpost." (The quote comes from the philosopher Bacon, who, while asserting that all evidence is ultimately fallible, allows for "one instance of a fingerpost that points in one direction only, and allows of no other possibility.")

Like The Name of the Rose, this is one whodunit in which the principal mystery is the nature of truth itself. Along the way, Pears displays a keen eye for period details as diverse as the early days of medicine, the convoluted politics of the English Civil War, and the newfangled fashion for wigs. Yet Pears never loses sight of his characters, who manage to be both utterly authentic denizens of the 17th century and utterly authentic human beings. As a mystery, An Instance of the Fingerpost is entertainment of the most intelligent sort; as a novel of ideas, it proves equally satisfying.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:02 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

When a fellow of New College in seventeenth-century Oxford is found dead and a young woman is accused of his murder, four witnesses, each with his own agenda, tell what they saw, but only one speaks the truth.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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