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An Instance of the Fingerpost (1997)

by Iain Pears

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,1821361,977 (3.94)1 / 303
A novel on the way we interpret events to suit our purpose. The protagonists are four people giving evidence in a murder in 17th century England. One blames the crime on too much authority, another on the lack of it. A look at the controversies of the day, from medical experiments to religious freethinking.… (more)
  1. 210
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (Booksloth)
  2. 51
    Dissolution by C. J. Sansom (Louve_de_mer)
  3. 40
    The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza (Booksloth)
  4. 51
    Ex-Libris by Ross King (amyblue)
  5. 51
    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (souci)
    souci: A look at the machinations behind the throne as England passes out of placid Catholicism moving fitfully and violently towards Protestantism.
  6. 30
    The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (cbl_tn)
  7. 30
    The Unburied by Charles Palliser (Booksloth)
  8. 00
    Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (BookshelfMonstrosity)
  9. 00
    Restoration by Rose Tremain (cf66)
    cf66: Se ocupan del mismo período historico
  10. 00
    Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (PuddinTame)
    PuddinTame: The Sarah Blundy character in Instance is roughly based on the real life Anne Greene. [Wikipedia] Newes from the Dead is a young adult account of Anne Greene's hanging and revival.
  11. 01
    Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson (ehines)
    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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» See also 303 mentions

English (124)  Spanish (4)  French (3)  German (2)  Swedish (1)  Russian (1)  All languages (135)
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
Splendid book.
I love historical fiction, and this is by far the best book I have read in this genre. Two charchters stand out: Sarah Blundy and Dr.Wood.

The story is narrated in four parts by four different charchters. Each narration has half truths and a self-fulfilling philosophy. The complete plot emerges only in the last twenty pages, until then story hangs in balance.

The kind of book that must completed in a day or two, else one might lose the thread very easily. ( )
  harishwriter | Oct 12, 2023 |
In the back there is a chronology and info about the historical characters in the book. This would have been useful to know before getting through 2/3 of the book, since there are A LOT of characters to keep straight.
( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
This was great! Broadly the same events narrated by 4 different characters it grows in scope with each section. There are a lot of educated men talking rubbish in this book, and one silenced woman at the centre of it, but yet it works perfectly as a mystery and also an interesting work of historical fiction, especially the history of medicine in the 17th century. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Jul 12, 2023 |
The first "book" was good. I enjoyed the main character's quirkiness. However the remaining three books were painful. The characters telling the story were unlikable and boring. All the books were about the events that took place in 1660's. Some didn't know what happened and others lied. I did not care what happened by the end. The plot had potential and a writer I enjoyed could have pulled it off.
5,065 members; 3.92 average rating; 4/23/2023 ( )
  mainrun | Jun 26, 2023 |
As this captivating novel begins, Marco da Cola, a self-described “gentleman of Venice,” offers his account of his visit to England in 1663. Sent by his merchant father to see to business affairs that have gone wrong, da Cola also carries a letter of introduction to notable English scientists, for our Venetian gentleman has interests there too.

Accordingly, he travels to Oxford, where he meets Robert Boyle, the famed physicist, among others, and discusses the proper approach to observation and reasoning concerning both accuracy and conformity to God’s laws. Right away, these principles are tested, through an unheard-of medical treatment, a murder, an investigation, and a punishment, in all of which da Cola plays an important role.

What sounds simple is anything but. These are religious times, dangerous to those who pray or think in unapproved ways; and with Cromwell’s protectorate recently ended, and the Stuarts restored to the throne, suspicion and conspiracy abound. Heed ye these controversies well, gentle reader, for they shape not only what Signor da Cola witnesses, but how others view him, his manuscript, and the events he describes.

An Instance of the Fingerpost is a strongly feminist novel, but by demonstration, not by soapbox. The woman most central to the story possesses a breadth of mind and character surpassing those of anyone else, to which Pears never calls undue attention. Yet how she behaves arouses suspicion, which raises a crucial theme, how men perceive women through the lens of their own weaknesses.

During his sojourn in England, da Cola shows his kind heart, good-natured disposition, ready laugh, and — within the bounds of seventeenth-century attitudes — tolerant outlook. All that makes him a perfect foil for the disagreeable, smug, hidebound, and cruel Englishmen he meets (many of whom are historical figures). His narrative provides an often cheeky commentary.
However, when da Cola’s narrative breaks off, other witnesses to the same events narrate their view and take great exception to his manuscript. I don’t mean their counterattacks on his character, which confirm their hatred of foreigners, their gloominess, and much else he remarked on. Rather, the Venetian gentleman seems not to have told the truth. The question is why.

The other voices respond to that and much else, recasting the murder by their own lights, as they justify themselves, often with a semblance of truth, but perhaps not. You don’t know whom to believe, or about what. Not only does the narrative framework recall the great Kurosawa film Rashomon, in which a presumably clear-cut criminal act becomes murky when viewed from different perspectives, Pears raises the reversal to its most psychologically penetrating form. Just when you think you might grasp how the murder and investigation unfolded, you don’t — though maybe there’s a piece of evidence, viewed differently, that makes sense. And that one piece won’t go away.

Readers of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose will recognize similarities here (as reviewers noted when Fingerpost came out). Crime and its repercussions become inseparable from the way people perceive good and evil, or what it means to think and observe, not to mention how ready they are to detest each other for petty differences in religious doctrine. Like Eco too, Pears renders political, social, and intellectual attitudes with such sureness that you don’t doubt him for a second.

An Instance of the Fingerpost is an enthralling mystery and a chilling exploration of the vicious potential of the human mind. ( )
  Novelhistorian | Jan 26, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
If you liked Umberto Eco's "Name of the Rose," you should run to buy Iain Pears' lavishly erudite historical mystery "An Instance of the Fingerpost."... If Eco's book was a sly demonstration of semiotics, the study of signs, Pear's is an exercise in theories of knowledge. Theological disputation, cryptography, religious dissent, medical experiments, moral philosophy, even the Turkish-Venetian war over Crete are all dealt with in what sometimes seems an entertaining encyclopedia of the second half of the 17th century.... When the denouement comes, it is with a new and final twist, one whose quality of surprise is the final proof of this talented author's almost infinite capacity to replace one understanding of things with another.
Successful literary thrillers in the mold of Umberto Eco's ''Name of the Rose'' are the stuff of publishers' dreams, and in Pears's novel they may have found a near-perfect example of the genre. It is literary -- if that means intelligent and well written -- and for the reader who likes to be teased, who likes his plots as baroque and ingenious as possible, ''An Instance of the Fingerpost'' will not disappoint.... [T]wo, perhaps three, of the four narrators are men hard to like or care about. It was not until the final 150 pages that I found myself being moved. The feel of this last section is bolder, more imaginative, mysterious even, as though the novel had suddenly transcended itself and broken free of the trappings of the genre.
...a novel about deception and self-deception, about the scientific method and Jesuitical chicanery, above all about political expedience and religious transcendence. Every sentence in the book is as solid as brick -- and as treacherous as quicksand.... [Y]ou could reread the novel just to savor the subtle tricks of omission and misdirection.... Iain Pears has written an impressively original and audaciously imaginative intellectual thriller. Don't miss it.
Rashomon meets The Name of the Rose in a triumphant triple-decker that knocks every speck of dust from the historical mystery.
added by Muscogulus | editKirkus Reviews (Dec 17, 1997)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pears, Iainprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ambrosini, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Badescu, AdrianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Biličić, DamirTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Čhaturongkhawāni… Thanatwō̜nTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Engen, BodilTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Evans, Alansecondary 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
Michael, PaulNarratorsecondary 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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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
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.
At this time, coffee in England was something of a craze, coming into the country with the return of the Jews. That bitter bean had little novelty for me, of course, for I drank it to cleanse my spleen and aid my digestion, but was not prepared to find it so much in fashion that it had produced special buildings where it could be consumed in extraordinary quantities and at the greatest expense.
But fashionable attire was not for comfort and, as it was profoundly uncomfortable, we may conclude that the wig was very fashionable.
And after you have put Aristotle to your proof? And, no doubt, found him wanting. Then what? Will you submit the monarchy to your investigations? The church, perhaps? Will you presume to put Our Savior Himself to your proofs? There lies the danger, sir. Your quest leads to atheism, as it must unless science is held firmly in the hands of those who wish to strengthen the word of God, rather than challenge it.
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A novel on the way we interpret events to suit our purpose. The protagonists are four people giving evidence in a murder in 17th century England. One blames the crime on too much authority, another on the lack of it. A look at the controversies of the day, from medical experiments to religious freethinking.

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