Not usually one for historical novels (although I adored Wolff Hall), much less historical mysteries, I picked up Iain Pears’ nearly 700 page tome at the Galesburg, Il. Public Library for $.10. I was intrigued because this mystery unfolds through the telling of four separate narrators, and this narrative structure has always intrigued me. (Side note: Public libraries are the bomb, and I love going to ones in other cities and towns. I also love library book sales. I always feel like I’ve won the lottery, and there is nothing as wonderful as knowing the book I now own has been returned on the various dates stamped on the inside cover and brought pleasure to countless people before resting in my lap. The Galesburg Public Library was pretty awesome as was the company I was with–Rebekah). In the first 150 pages, I’ve gotten my money’s worth, and considerably more just in admiring Pears’ elegant sentences. Damn, the man can write a sentence.
I’m learning a great deal about Restoration England, the scientific and religious roots of medicine, and a million and one reasons why I am thrilled to be a woman who was born in 1975, as opposed to the 1600’s. An infected eye, in 1663, was treated with dried and powered dog feces which were then blown into the eye. If that’s how an infected eye was treated, imagine the fate of a woman without social standing. The character I am most enthralled by is Sarah Blundy, a woman of considerable intellect and sass, whose reputation has been tainted by her dead father’s civil war stirring and vocal activism. She has no means, and honestly, my compunction to discover her fate is what has me turning the pages when the men-folk strike me as bloated wind-bags of fecund hot air.
This first section is told by the Italian visitor, Marco da Cola, who is often as puzzled by the reader by the customs and line of reasoning of the English. The murder of Oxford Don, Dr. Grove, has just been autopsied, and arsenic discovered in his brandy.
I was looking for a sustained summer read, and I’ve found it. If you’re looking for a summer read that vividly recreates a place and time period and skillfully weaves a web of murder, then pick up this considerably weighty novel and join me. I guarantee, when you close the cover and awake from what John Gardner coined as the “fictional dream” you’ll be glad to find yourself once again in 2015.