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Iain Pears' Arcadia

PearsWriters Theatre is performing Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia through May 1. Stoppard’s 1993 play and Pears’ 2015 novel of the same name show many similarities. Characters move between worlds and time. Mystery and fantasy and poetry abound. Mathematics and scientific discoveries dominate the discussion and the action. Both works are multi-stranded stories that move well beyond Webster’s definition of arcadia as “a region or scene of simple pleasure and quiet.” Both the play and the novel are varied and thoughtful treats for the mind, told with wisdom and humor.

Pears’ Arcadia does not follow a linear structure. The book features three worlds, with some characters inhabiting more than one. It is a delightful romp through the woods in a pastoral world, a fascinating foray into a world of scientific advances and social disarray, an everyday story set in Oxford in the 1960’s. The novel moves beyond the expected boundaries of time and place; what is past, present, or future in any world is not clear.

The role of the Storyteller is central to the novel, as is Henry Lytten, a 1960s Oxford don, who writes fiction and invents a story about a place called Anterwold. In another part of the book, Anterwold exists as a real place. Oral history, the Story, and the scholars who interpret it are at the core of that world.  Of the other major characters, Angela Meerson is a psychomathematician who invents a machine that has the power to change worlds (parallel worlds and/or time travel), and Rosie Wilson is a young girl who is a key player in more than one world and time period.

As The New York Times review points out, “Arcadia is not an easy book to summarize.” It is an easy book to read, however, if, as I do, you enjoy the challenge of reading literary fiction involving moving through multiple universes with multiple characters.

Writers Theatre is performing Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia through May 1. Stoppard’s 1993 play and Pears’ 2015 novel of the same name show many similarities. Characters move between worlds and time. Mystery and fantasy and poetry abound. Mathematics and scientific discoveries dominate the discussion and the action. Both works are multi-stranded stories that move well beyond Webster’s definition of arcadia as “a region or scene of simple pleasure and quiet.” Both the play and the novel are varied and thoughtful treats for the mind, told with wisdom and humor.

Pears’ Arcadia does not follow a linear structure. The book features three worlds, with some characters inhabiting more than one. It is a delightful romp through the woods in a pastoral world, a fascinating foray into a world of scientific advances and social disarray, an everyday story set in Oxford in the 1960’s. The novel moves beyond the expected boundaries of time and place; what is past, present, or future in any world is not clear.

The role of the Storyteller is central to the novel, as is Henry Lytten, a 1960s Oxford don, who writes fiction and invents a story about a place called Anterwold. In another part of the book, Anterwold exists as a real place. Oral history, the Story, and the scholars who interpret it are at the core of that world.  Of the other major characters, Angela Meerson is a psychomathematician who invents a machine that has the power to change worlds (parallel worlds and/or time travel), and Rosie Wilson is a young girl who is a key player in more than one world and time period.

As The New York Times review points out, “Arcadia is not an easy book to summarize.” It is an easy book to read, however, if, as I do, you enjoy the challenge of reading literary fiction involving moving through multiple universes with multiple characters. 

 
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