Thursday, November 06, 2008

Rashomon and Restoration

I just finished An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, a historical novel set in Oxford during the English Restoration after Oliver Cromwell had died. It is a popular time in novels, also used in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle and Morrow's Last Witchfinder, probably due to the turmoil in society at the time as well as the creation of new institutions like the Royal Society.

It is also a bit of a mystery, revolving around the death of a local scholar, possibly at the hands of a young woman. It's told Rashoman-like, in four stories told by different protagonists, most of whom are unreliable narrators for one reason or another. There is the Italian physician visiting Oxford on business, the law student seeking redemption for his fallen family honour, the court cryptographer looking out for conspiracies against the king and the historian who falls in love and resolves the mysteries.

Each of the narrative sheds light on the one before it and solves some mysteries while adding new ones. The author also does an excellent job of creating unique voices for each section - each story has a different feel to it that goes along with what we eventually learn about the character of the narrator.