Dream Of Scipio Paperback – 2003
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Like his elegant debut, An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears's The Dream of Scipio is an inventive, gloriously detailed historical novel told from multiple viewpoints. But Pears has set himself an additional challenge by spreading his narrators over several centuries: there's the fifth century French nobleman and bishop, Manlius, a civilized man who has embraced the uncouth Christian faith in order to protect what he holds dear; an 11th-century scholar and troubadour named Olivier de Noyen, the famously ill-fated admirer of a married girl; and Julien Barneuve, an early 20th-century scholar of de Noyen who discovers, through him, a magnificent manuscript of Manlius's called "The Dream of Scipio." Though all three men come from the same small Provençal town, it is this manuscript, derived from the teachings of a wise woman, that links the three narrative threads of Pears's story. At the heart of The Dream of Scipio and, one suspects, at the heart of its author, is the conflict between a classical ideal of learning and the contemplation of beauty, and the noisy, uncivilized, democratizing impulses of the Christian era. A novel of ideas like its predecessor, The Dream of Scipio is neither chilly nor didactic and doesn't shy away from depicting the costs of its narrators' unpopular devotions. --Regina Marler
"Iain Pears aims high in his novels. The Dream of Scipio (Knopf), his latest, encompasses three narratives set hundreds of years apart in the same tiny corner of Provence, all three variations on a theme -- what is a civilized man to do when the barbarians are at the gate? And Pears pulls it off in a virtuoso display of craftsmanship that brings the stories, at the same rapidly building pace, to their very different, but subtly linked, conclusions." -- Maclean’s
"A dazzling triptych of love and ideas…. Pears's finest book yet, even more successful and riveting than its predecessor….. [I]mmensely readable, fast-moving, and full of wonderful juxtapositions…. Take a chance on this odd book. Youll be very glad you did." -- Boston Globe
"Pears' elaborate narrative triptych is dazzling for its structure, its complexity, and the richness of thought that gives it texture. But, finally, it is the passion of the love stories, undercutting bloodless philosophy while embracing the messiness of life, that lets the novel soar." -- Booklist (starred review)
"The Dream of Scipio is complex, surprising and thought-provoking, a dream of a novel in more senses than one. " -- The Wall Street Journal
"English writer Iain Pears possesses that wildly rare quality displayed only by writers like A.S. Byatt in Possession or Umberto Eco in The Name of the Rose: the ability to be both extraordinarily erudite and thoroughly capable of writing a novel that the intellectually unwashed can enjoy…. Pears makes you think and want to learn more. This is not escapist literature but educational in the very best sense of the word…. Pears has the ability to create characters who are immediately recognizable…. this novel is worth your time." -- USA Today
“If the highest test of a work of imaginative literature is whether it can make you think and feel at the same time, this novel passes it…If a better novel is published this year and carries off the Booker and other prizes, I shall be amazed.” -- The Scotsman
“It is difficult to know where to begin in praising the achievement of this rigorous but infinitely beguiling book. The novel of ideas has been moribund for quite some time, but Pears breathes rude life into the genre with an epic that echoes the achievements of Robert Graves and André Gide. The balance between the key questions of existence and the passionate, life-affirming solidity that the author grants to his characters is impeccable, and all three protagonists are forcefully characterised…But above all, this is a piece of storytelling that almost redefines the very notion of the art: luminescent entertainment by a master, even more impressive than An Instance of the Fingerpost, the book which first drew attention to Pears’ highly individual skills.” -- Amazon.co.uk
"Combining the visceral pleasures of a thriller with the more intellectual excitements of a novel of ideas ....beautifully constructed and, for such a cerebrally challenging book, remarkably easy to read." -- The Telegraph (London)
Praise for An Instance of the Fingerpost
“Every sentence in the book is as solid as a brick -- and as treacherous as quicksand… Iain Pears has written an impressively original and audaciously imaginative intellectual thriller.” -- The Washington Post Book World
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Top Customer Reviews
A mysterious 5th century manuscript by Manlius Hippomanes connects the parallel plots and eras: the waning days of the Roman Empire, as the barbarian hordes attack Gaul's borders and Manlius Hippomanes writes The Dream of Scipio; the 14th century in Avignon, when poet Olivier de Noyen discovers some of Manlius's writing and deals with papal intrigue, the Hundred Years War, and the Black Death; and the Vichy government in France during World War II, when Julien Barneuve, a scholar who has traced the Manlius manuscript, joins the Vichy government in an effort to "civilize" the German occupiers and prevent deportation of the Jews.
This is not a beach book--its excitement is far more thoughtful than sensational. Pears' characters are real, flawed people living and loving in times of crisis and experiencing conflicts with parents, teachers, friends, and mentors. These conflicts clearly parallel those in the wider world of their political alliances and governments, and ultimately affect their attitudes toward humankind in general. Beautiful love stories, which bring warmth to the narrative, are portrayed with the delicacy such fragile relationships deserve and the strength which allows them to endure. As we, too, face uncertain times and threats to our own civilization, Pears offers a reflective and thought-provoking framework for contemplating our own future.
Initially the juxtaposition of the three stories seems a little awkward - as the reader is moved back and forth across fifteen centuries, switching between the three strands of the narrative in the course of a very few pages. Unlike "An Instance of the Fingerpost" this is not compartmentalised into distinct stories in separate sections. However, it is this deliberate use of a disjointed narrative that forces the reader to break out of historical complacency. Reading of the events of the fifth century, when civilisation is "saved" through conquest, it seems a perfectly rational course of action to save culture for posterity through converting the conqueror. Comparing this, within a few pages, with the Nazi occupation of France in the last century, and historical detachment is brought up against direct comparisons with more recent reality - can acquiescence and conversion really work?
The thread of anti-Jewish pogroms also runs through the story, along with other religious persecutions. This emphasises the horrific consequences of failing to maintain "civilised" standards, even if this is perceived as a temporary expediency.
Examining a single event from different vantage points was, of course, what made "An Instance of the Fingerpost" so successful story.Read more ›
The thread running through the three stories, all of which deal with moral dilemmas posed by an oncoming collapse, is the title of the book, a manuscript entitled "The Dream of Scipio," written by a fifth-century Roman, Manlius, who converts to Christianity in order to try to preserve what is left of the Western Roman Empire. The manuscript is discovered by Olivier de Noyen, poet, scholar, aide to a powerful Cardinal, in 1348, and rediscovered in 20th-century France by intellectual Julien Barneuve.
In each of the stories the protagonists are faced with moral choices--must a few be sacrificed to save the many? And it's left to the reader to determine whether they've made the right choices or not. Pears, with his deadpan prose, offers no opinion.
The tale is a chilly one. (Some may put the book down and select another after reading the opening sentence.) And if you stick with it you'll probably be consulting reference books to read up on the history of the periods Pears writes about (he helpfully supplies a timeline).
Pears makes no missteps. He accomplishes what he sets out to do, but when you've finished it you'll probably want to run outside and take a walk in the sunshine.
Most recent customer reviews
Great style, great presentation! Need your whole attention! Can't put it down book?Published 23 months ago by Kathleen Horvathexcellent value for the $$
While this book has flashes of excellent writing, it fails to engage the reader in a sustained way. The frequent changes of setting are often so abrupt that the story is hard to... Read morePublished on Sept. 17 2013 by Avid Reader
The book reaches such a highlight of beauty and wisdom that no words can give it justice.Published on May 10 2004
The jacket copy on this book is somewhat misleading, since it's billed as a mystery, which leads one to expect a more suspense-filled plot and also a story that moves quickly. Read morePublished on March 16 2004 by B. McEwan
I rarely write reviews, although I read constantly. But I need to write a review of The Dream of Scipio. This book is one of the finest I've ever read. It is a work of art. Read morePublished on Feb. 14 2004 by Amazon Customer
This is a three dimensional weaving of exceptional characters in the worst of times. I was cautious reading due to the nature of the three eras and the gruesome realities of those... Read morePublished on Jan. 29 2004 by L. Dann
Iain Pears uses a single region (Provence, around Avignon) and a common thread (a manuscript on philosophy)to illustrate three different moments in Western civlization and the... Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2004 by Guillermo Maynez
Apparantly inspired by a short story of Borges (on the rewriting of Don Quixote), we view the quest of four individuals living centuries apart, albiet each in a time of social and... Read morePublished on Dec 29 2003 by Phillip I. Good
"Scipio" is one of the best novels I've read in years, and I read a lot! Be forewarned by the few negative reviews here on Amazon--to fully appreciate this book you... Read morePublished on Dec 28 2003 by J. Marren