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Book artwork can play an important role in attracting readers. When we saw Stone's Fall in a charity shop, we decided to take a punt on it because the artwork made it look "interesting". If you believe Mrs SWSt, the book lived up to that initial promise; personally, I thought the artwork was significantly more interesting than the book itself.
When Victorian industrialist John Stone is found dead, having apparently fallen (or been pushed) from a window in his home, the repercussions are significant. Stone is a leading figure in British industry and his companies a crucial part of the British Empire's economy. His will makes a mysterious bequest to his unknown child, and his widow hires a former reporter to try and track him down.
Stone's Fall is split into three different sections which gradually work their way back in time. It starts in 1909 with Stone's death, moving to Paris in 1890, whilst the final section shifts to 1867 Venice before revealing how these sections all tie together.
There is nothing new about the idea of telling a story backwards, but Pears handles the structure well so that the reader is rarely confused, even if they are slightly mystified. Each section actually feels like a story in its own right, whilst at the same time they are always clearly connected (although the full implications do not become clear until the very final pages.)
Sadly, the book suffered from a number of issues. The level of interest of the three segments varied wildly. Mrs SWSt said the book grabbed her from the start, but that's not an opinion I shared. It took such a long time for anything to happen (and involves such detailed accounts of business and economic activity) that I found part one a real struggle to get into. To be perfectly honest, if I were not one of those people that stubbornly persists with a book once I've started it, I would have given up on Stone's Fall before I reached the end of part one.
Part two got my hopes up. The pace quickened and the book became more interesting. The plot was also more engaging and gave greater insights into human nature and behaviour to make the characters interesting. During part two, I finally began to see why Mrs SWSt found the title so appealing and was actually quite sad when it ended.
Sadly, this proved to be a false dawn as part three has more in common with part one, and once again felt quite dull and pedestrian. By the time I reached the end of the book (which pulls all the plot strands together) I no longer really cared that much: I simply wanted to get the book finished. Part three felt very uneven and some of the plotting rather strained and unlikely - completely at odds with what we had learned about some of the characters in the previous two sections.
It is quite clever the way the plot comes together in the end and how well Pears conceals his true intentions. It's always clear that something is slightly amiss, but it's not immediately obvious what. Readers will, of course, try to guess the outcome but I suspect that few will succeed. It's actually so obvious that you overlook it and try to over-complicate things, which at least means the denouement preserves the element of surprise.
Where Pears does excel is in his writing style. Yes, it can be somewhat turgid, but in terms of the language and style, he perfectly captures the feel of a turn of the century novel, using the same flowery language and excessive use of adjectives. It might sound a little odd to modern ears, but it works well in the context of a book which is pretending to be a period Victorian work.
This verbose approach does make for a big book - almost 600 pages of small, densely packed text in the paperback edition - which can be rather daunting. Whilst chapters themselves are not that long (typically 20-30 pages) they feel long because the text is small and breaks in chapters are few and far between. I found that this impacted on its readability and it wasn't a book that particularly lent itself to picking up and reading during a few spare moments.
A real annoyance was the lax editing and typography, with a number of really obvious spelling or grammatical errors. I suppose it's possible I noticed them more and was less forgiving because I wasn't really enjoying the book, but some were so obvious that it is pretty unforgivable that they slipped through.
As I said, opinion was divided in the SWSt household. Mrs SWSt really enjoyed it I found it dull. For what it's worth, my dad also read it and shared my opinion. Perhaps it's just a book that might appeal more to women? Who knows?
The book costs around £5-6 (print or electronic) to buy new, which is way too much. You can get copies of it second hand for a couple of pounds and I couldn't advocate spending any more than this.
© Copyright SWSt 2013
This is the first time I have read an Iain Pears novel and I must say I was really disappointed. The tale is cut in three parts and tells the story of Matthew Braddock, Elizabeth, Henry Colt and John Stone. It takes you from 1909 to 1890 and to 1867 which I found really hard to keep up with. Especially as the book starts off at Elizabeth's funeral in 1953. The first part about Elizabeth and Matthew I found really hard going. And at the end of part one I was none the wiser as to what it was all about.
I really liked his writing style it was clever and beautifully written but i just could not get into the story.
The second part I liked even less. I got confused between Henry's father and him. I thought that by the end of part two it would have started to become clear but I was still left wondering what on earth I was reading.
The third part about John Stone was really good though. But still I got confused as to where it was all going. I think the story would have been better told just by John Stone's character because by the time I was reading about him I had already forgotten who the characters were. And constantly had to look back through the book to understand.
The ending was very strange but the secret of the book was revealed and I did feel it was an interesting, shock ending.
But I don't think it was worth reading the whole book just to find that out.
Overall the ending was good but the book is hard going and a lot of the plot I found irrelevant to the end.