There was also an app created for this story, allowing you to read whatever POV you wish, as there are said to be 10 story lines, sometimes entwining with others as the story progresses. More about that app can be read on the website of The Guardian. In the book, it results in separate chapters per character, shifting focus with each chapter. Each chapter then is subdivided with asterisks to facilitate the reading as new happenings take place.
The story takes place in the 1960’s and revolves around Anterworld, a world created in the mind of professor (and spy) Lytten, who was writing a book about it. Rosie, a 15-year-old girl who visits him regularly to look after his cat, Mr. Jenkins, and do some odd jobs, suddenly can’t find the cat anymore and starts a search. She ends up in the cellar, a place barely used by the professor and one she has never been in. There she discovers a pergola behind a blanket. When she uncovers it, she sees a new world though it, as well as people. Since Mr. Jenkins is nowhere to be found, her only option then is to go through the pergola and look for the creature over there. That’s when the ball starts to roll and things are (unexpectedly) set in motion, with rather serious consequences.
Life in Anterworld is very different from real life, not only in terms of politics or communal life, but also beliefs, education, and so on. You could consider it a sort of dystopian/utopia, depending on how you look at it, hence the title ‘Arcadia’
Since time travel is a key ingredient in this story, it’s obvious that other story lines (POV’s) are set in the future and the past. Mainly the future is of importance, as another character (Angela Meerson, a mathematician from the future), is working on a device to travel into time. Of course, she doesn’t get the desired support from her chief, Mr. Hanslip, who has a different point of view on the matter. Meanwhile, the institute is a target for an ambitious and power-hungry old man called Oldmanter, who has other, more malicious, plans with the time-travel device.
Because of all the trouble, Angela flees back in time to France and England, erasing all traces, and so she actually proves that time travel is possible. Thanks to anti-aging agents and implants, she remains young and energetic, and can remain undetected as translator, for example. Via professor Lytten she wants to rebuild her machine to travel to an alternative reality, hence the pergola in the basement, of which he (Lytten) is unaware. Angela uses Lytten’s story about Anterworld for her machine. Lytten’s story was never finished, several aspects and characters weren’t properly worked out, but he did use moments of his life as a basis for it all, as shown in the characters of Anterworld. Due to Rosie’s intervention, Angela’s plan needed quick reviewing.
Once he discovered she had gone, Hanslip wanted Angela back to obtain vital and valuable information about the time-travel machine. Therefore, a search party is set up to track her down, no matter how. And this is one example of how storylines come together, in Anterworld or elsewhere.
For this story, as several genres are mixed into the pan, Iain Pears also used references to 20th century events as well as references to the past. This is shown in the intelligence of Angela and Rosie in certain dialogues and situations, which of course confuses characters in Anterworld.
The writing itself is beautiful, very comprehensible. Pears doesn’t lay all his cards on the table, but his way of leaving crumbs and changing focus with each chapter makes it hard to put the book down. He really knows how to keep your attention. In hindsight, it’s easy to say you expected this or that to happen, but I never saw how it would end, how Pears would conclude his ‘Arcadia’, hats off for that, but even more for this entire work, I found it to be a very original story, enticing and well worked out, although some threads (future of Anterworld? The other characters?) could be further fleshed out, in my opinion. So much even that Mr. Pears could easily write a sequel. Unless he wants the reader to form his/her own idea on what (could have) happened next?
In short: This book is very much recommended for all who seek to read something different, something refreshing. This book is definitely an alternative choice to your regular reading habits is definitely worth the space on your bookshelf or Kindle and will be enjoyed by spy in science fiction fans alike. This is definitely a unique and artistic blending of two great literary genres.
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