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Dark Puss

I certainly made it through to the end and it is about 200 pages longer than it merits in my opinion. I also hated the very final twist, just so disappointing after the horrors of the other narratives I felt and so "pat" that I almost threw down my copy in despair. Overall I felt a little let down by this book and it wears its historical research so heavily that on one occasion I took time out from reading to try to trip up the author on his research, Very petty of me I am sure (and I failed to do so) but indicative of my frustration. Frustration because underneath the overdone and overwrought there was cetainly a good and exciting story. What else didn't I warm to? Two things really irritated me during reading the story; one was the endless cross-referencing to passages from the Bible and secondly a certain knowingness expressed by the characters about what might or would not, happen in the future world we currently inhabit.

So nearly very good, but ultimately a little less than "brilliant" to my dim eyes. Give me Eco any day!


The biblical references would surely have been common currency for such people at that time, and the knowingness about the future didn't bother me - perhaps I was too intent on following the sequence of events.
Having read another of Iain Pears' books, I'd say it's clear he is prodigiously well read and knowledgeable and must pride himself on meticulous research and thus on every detail being right.
As to the final twist, I didn't feel short-changed - rather, that IP had pulled something out of the bag!

Dark Puss

Sorry, I was (as so often) unclear! It wasn't the use of quotations from the Bible that irritated me but the explicit referencing of them in the text. The final twist I saw (potentially) coming a mile off and was praying it wouldn't appear. Another book where you and I have a different view of its overall merits. It was good, in parts very good, but unfortunately not for me as outstanding as you have clearly found it. As always very happy to have read your choice. Now to track down next month's CBG read.


I made it through to the end after struggling with part 2, after that I settled down to a thoroughly good read. I did wonder at the beginning how I was going to cope with four different views of the same story, but they were all so very different that I felt compelled to finish it. I shuddered a lot whilst reading, what a dangerous, dismal, painful time to live in! It is absolutely worth persevering to the last, well researched, page.


I haven"t read this book and probably won't but Dark Puss reminds me of my reaction to Eco's "The Name of the Rose". I found the pretentious parading of every scrap of knowledge from European high school education so irritating that it distracted from the book's really interesting plot.


I think it's a very impressive work but would have been even better had it been shorter (and I say that as someone who has never shied away from a long book for reasons of length).


Glad you thought so, Chris!


I've yet to read Eco, so can't make the comparison with Pears, but it's interesting that their 'obvious' use of knowledge - whether background or foreground facts - is irksome to some readers.

Mr Cornflower

You know how it is when you see a model of St Paul's Cathedral made out of matchsticks? On the one hand you admire the painstaking doggedness, the hundreds or thousands of hours it must have taken; on the other, you do rather wonder if it was worth the effort. The reaction is all the more acute in that with this book, the reader too has to make a big effort. I agree with DP, it is at least 200 pages too long - more like 300. I also agree with him that within the sprawling, rambling confines of the book as it stands is a very imaginative story which cries out for much tougher editing. The one point where DP and I part company is our reactions to the plot twist towards the end - perhaps I was just relieved that the author had done something to shake us up.
I don't want to be too negative as there is much to admire here, for example the author is very good at summoning up the feel and texture of a very distant and different world. I'm relieved that I didn't have to share a bed with my tutor and my fellow students!

Dark Puss

I'm certainly strongly discouraged from sharing my bed with any of my students!!!!

Dark Puss

Erika I agree with your comment in some respects but curiously I liked The Name of the Rose rather more than I liked this book - and I did like this book in many ways. Perhaps I would say that Foucault's Pendulum wears its learning a little to obviously and in that respect is, for me, a more similar reading experience to An Instance of the Fingerpost.

Julie Fredericksen

I made it through but certainly enjoyed parts 1 and 4 better than 2 and 3. Those had too much philosophizing and politicking in them for me. Parts 1 and 4 had more human interest. I thought it clever of Pears to make you believe each narrator - at least when it was his turn to narrate. (Tho I began to suspect the madness in part 3.)

I thought this was even better than a whodunit. It was a "who was she really?" that I thoroughly enjoyed. As to the plot twist at the end, I disagree with DP and agree with Cornflower that Pears pulled something out of the bag. I think that had a lot to do with my sad ignorance of some parts of English history.

Dark Puss

I'm going to be the odd one out on the plot twist aspect I think.

Susan in TX

Well, I don't have a lot "new" to offer this conversation. I agree that it was at least 200 pages too long. I'll second Julie that I much preferred parts 1 and 4. I did not like the way the author finished Sarah's story. Spoiler alert! I was okay when she survived the hanging, but the bit about her implied "ascension" from the boat was just going a bit too far for my imagination. (unless I misread that part - maybe he was implying she fell overboard, but I thought he was certain to rule that out? It was late at night for me, so I leave misinterpretation as a possibility.)The author really lost my interest when he made her into a messiah for her times. Really? I did stick it out, and I did enjoy it as a whole, but I can't say that I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to anyone.


He is very good on that 'other' world, and there were many fine set pieces, I thought, and commentaries on this and that which, albeit discursive, were lively and entertaining.


I, too, found 1 and 4 the better parts, and each narrative is very plausible until discredited by later ones. That in itself is a feat.


I'm tempted to say I'll rush and read the ending again, but on second thoughts perhaps not!
Well done for finishing it, Susan, and as to recommending it, yes, you're right it would be hard to do without a rider as to the 'defects' we've all noted.


I made it trough too ( hurray!) and...what a demanding read! A few times I was so close to the point of giving up on this book.
But it was rewarding too. I felt my perseverance paid off when finished reading. I admire the author's wide range of knowledge and his painstaking research; I thought the structure- four different perspectives about the same events - was clever and reminded me of Kurosawa's film 'Rashomon'. Although I agree that it should've been shorter for a more enjoyable read, I enjoyed learning some trivial facts such as doctors' tasting patients' urine for medical examination(yuck!)


I'd like to give prizes to everyone who finished the book, but well done, Michi, and I'm glad you felt it was worthwhile in the end!
The medical content was fascinating, wasn't it?

Julie Fredericksen

Sorry, I meant the madness in part 2, Jack Prescott's story.


Well I am a little bleary-eyed this afternoon as I was determind to finish the book before the discussion and it was 1.00am by the time I turned out the light. I am thinking now that perhaps I should have read it on my kindle as the sheer size and weight of the book did not make it easy to read and I could not find a comfortable positon to hold the book.

That being said I really enjoyed the book and for me I was so glad that I read it to the end. Parts of it were totally absorbing and I just loved that it was from four different points of view, which I didn't expect. I was surprised by the ending as I didn't see the final twist coming - it was late. I too was disappointed in the fate of Sarah Blundy,having survived the hanging and the start of an autopsy that she should end up in the ocean en route to the New World seemed a little too neat.

As for the medical trivia I am amazed and still shudder at the thought that Dr Grove's eye infection was being treated by dog's excrement- uck! No wonder it was not healing.


I didn’t read the book for the book group since I had already read it two (or three?) years ago. Is the final twist you are all referring to relating to Charles II or to Sarah? If it is the royal one, I loved that aspect of the book. It did take me by surprise, however, even though (as I found out later) it is a matter of historical record.

As to the ultimate fate of Sarah, since every narrative is unreliable, who is to say that the last one is necessarily accurate? They each saw Sarah the way they wanted to see her, what the final truth is…well, I thought that was intentionally left obscure. I had no problem with the length of the book and I liked the circumlocution and the historical detail, extraneous or not. In fact, I was going to listen to it on audio, since I didn’t have time to re-read it the old fashioned way, but could only find the abridged version in the U.S. so I didn’t bother. The unabridged version is only available to UK buyers, apparently due to copyrights. In any case, I wanted to listen to ALL of it. I also loved The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, so I guess that is no surprise.


Thank goodness for modern medicine!
Sarah's fate is an interesting question - if this were a stage play one could imagine the gasps from the audience at the successive twists: amazement, incredulity, disappointment, etc.


You are quite right about the unreliability, Ruthiella, so that's one more clever twist, and Iain Pears could certainly not be said to be predictable.

 Barbara MacLeod

I was very late in getting ahold of the book so I have not finished it. Nonetheless .... I really like it! The story works for me; the setting and period are well described and I quite like the author’s way of bringing “a foreigner’s” point of view. For example, he is perplexed at the English practice of giving the final decision Guilty or Not Guilty to “a group of twelve men, chosen at random and utterly ignorant of all law.”

I don’t mind all the to-ing and fro-ing, and biblical quoting as the characters engage in their practice of experimentation in the name of science.

Yes, I think the novel is ... what do they say in reviews?... “ambitious”. I think you need time to read this and that I am happy to do.

On another completely off-the-tangent note: in my wanderings in Scotland I have occasionally come across places where measures to prevent body snatching were evident. One is in Kilmun on the Clyde Coast. If you ever visit there (not far from the Younger Botanical Garden) go into the churchyard of the C of S church across from the pier. Around at the back of the church are metal contraptions clamped to the back wall. These are covers for coffins so that the bodies could not be robbed.

Years ago I recall coming across a very small square stone building in an Edinburgh graveyard ...?Greyfriars area? It was a wee cell-like house where watchmen sat to make sure no one made off with any bodies. I see on Wikipedia a photo of the Greyfriars “Mortsafes to deter 'resurrectionists' from exhuming the dead before the 1832 Anatomy Act regulated the legal supply of corpses for medical purposes.” No mention of a watchman’s cell however.


His observations on juries are certainly topical, aren't they?
I have seen the mortsafes in Greyfriars churchyard, but I don't remember the cell - though it's many years since I've been there.
Glad the book is going well for you, Barbara.


Well I've finally managed to finish the book, this isn't a reflection on the book which I mostly enjoyed when I had the time to get into the story but more about where my reading life is at the moment.

My main frustration was that I wanted to hear from Sarah herself although that is an accurate reflection of a women's agency at the time


Yes! That would have been very interesting.

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