“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?”
My Thoughts: In my extremely brief assessment of Arcadia I posted after finishing it a few weeks ago, I described the story as an “odd bit of fantasy.” I still stand by that statement because it is very unique. The synopsis only hints at some of the more creative elements of the story. Yes, there are three interlocking worlds, and each of those three worlds has the capability of being the past, present or future of all of the characters or none of them. There is a psychomathematician, a profession I am not certain I can explain even directly after a chapter describing what she does. There is a magical portal. There is what appears to be advanced technology. There is an entire spy subplot which is amusing. See? Odd. Note, I just never said it was an easily understood odd bit of fantasy.
The same phrase could easily apply to The Library at Mount Char, with its twelve Librarians and their special powers. However, that is about all that one can use to compare the two. While one is all blood and violence and mystery and superpowers, Arcadia is much like the pastoral setting into which Rosie stumbles. It is a quiet, cerebral novel. There is more verbal parrying than actual fighting, and the entire novel is at a rather high intellectual level.
The story plays with the idea/definition of time, which makes the three worlds important in being able to decipher the definition. However, in order for this to be effective, it means that Pears does not spend a lot of time building the historical context behind the various worlds. Rather, he focuses on the current events in each and lets the action provide some of the clues. Then, in a stroke of masterful writing, he connects each of these disparate worlds together in such a fashion that all of it makes perfect sense, and the historical context, so vital to a fantasy novel, simply slips into place.
I describe this novel as fantasy because some of the settings are downright nonsensical in their origins. However, I have seen booksellers label this as literary fiction, something that does make sense on some level. There is the concentration on words rather than action to drive the story. In fact, the action is practically nonexistent when compared to other fantasy novels. The problem with classifying Arcadia within the literary fiction genre is that this classification only seems truly appropriate upon finishing the novel. Once you see how Pears ties all of the pieces together, then you realize that the fantasy/science fiction elements are not necessarily as strong as you believed while reading it. Then again, isn’t the very fact that the story makes some believable sense at the end a sign of a good fantasy novel?
I know this review makes absolutely no sense, but Arcadia is one of those novels that defies description, let alone classification. Everything of note would take to long to explain, so it is just better to say that it is a weird, not-so-little story that is, frankly, mesmerizing in its quirkiness. It is best to just go with the flow as the story unfolds. Don’t bother to try to define time or understand the science behind some of the action. It is best to let the words and the worlds wash over you. Then, in time, the story becomes makes sense, and the brilliance of Pears’ story becomes clear.