Curiously enough, Josh Chafetz and I both finished Iain Pears’ The Dream of Scipio yesterday. It’s quite strikingly different from Pears’ earlier An Instance of the Fingerpost — more philosophical, more emotionally intense and absorbing and ultimately draining, and more romantic. Instance is fun; I’d have a hard time saying that about Scipio. As someone drawn to intellectual disciplines of commentaries-upon-commentaries, I did enjoy Scipio’s device of using a text written in the earliest plotline as a key part of the two set later; but I think Fingerpost‘s related literary device (interlocking plots told from different character’s perspectives) was ultimately more successful. I think I’d finally say that Scipio doesn’t fulfill its ambitions quite as well as Fingerpost fulfills its ambitions– but that Scipio‘s ambitions reach higher. I highly recommend both.
I really ought to have blogged about Instance (one of my favorite novels) before when people were talking about Quicksilver— Instance is very different from Quicksilver, but those who enjoyed the latter might well enjoy seeing a different historical-fiction take on some of the same characters, in a different literary genre (murder mystery/ political intrigue) and style (much as I love Neal Stephenson, Instance is vastly superior to Quicksilver as a piece of literature). John Locke, for one, comes across rather differently in the two books.