With 2011 coming to an end, like a lot of bloggers I’ve been putting together a list of my favourite books read this year. One of the books on my list is Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears, which I finished a couple of weeks ago but haven’t had a chance to post about yet, so I thought it would make sense to tell you about the book today before posting my Top Books of 2011 later in the week.
I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy Stone’s Fall so much because a few years ago, I started to read Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost and despite it sounding like exactly the type of book I would usually love, I couldn’t get into it at all and abandoned it a few pages into the second of the book’s four parts. With this book, though, I’ve had a completely different experience and I’ve never been so glad that I decided to give an author a second chance!
Stone’s Fall is a very complex and cleverly constructed novel. At the beginning of the story we are told that a man is dead but before we can understand the circumstances surrounding his death it’s necessary to go back in time and learn as much as we can about his life. And so the book is divided into three sections, each narrated by a different character, and moving backwards from London in 1909 to Paris in 1890 and finally Venice in 1867. The link between all three stories is the mysterious Elizabeth, Lady Ravenscliff, who plays an important part in the life of each narrator and is perceived in a different way by each of them.
The first narrator we meet, in 1909, is Matthew Braddock, a journalist working for a London newspaper. When John Stone, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, meets his death after falling from an open window, he leaves behind a will containing an unusual bequest. Stone’s widow, Lady Ravenscliff, asks Braddock to investigate but as he begins to dig into the secrets of Stone’s business empire he makes some surprising discoveries.
At the end of the first part I was sorry to have to say goodbye to Braddock and move back in time and on to another narrator. However, it only took me a few pages to get back into the flow of the story – the second narrator is fascinating and I enjoyed the second section even more than the first! And in the third and final part of the book, we switch narrator yet again, with this section of the book being equally compelling.
Many of the characters are unlikeable or flawed in some way, but I found all of them interesting to read about. The way I thought about each character changed as I was given more information to piece together and I was constantly forced to re-interpret what I had just read.
Stone’s Fall is a long book (over 600 pages) and very detailed and the author takes his time in introducing us to each character and building up a full picture of John Stone’s world. However, despite the pace being slow at times I found the plot completely gripping and was never bored – it was all so wonderfully intricate and clever. The balance between the melodramatic plot twists and the more technical details of banking, politics and espionage was exactly right, so that the story was both entertaining and informative.
“Love, Murder, Espionage.” Those are the words on the front cover, but although all three can be found within this book, it also contains so many other themes and ideas that to mention everything would require a post twice as long as this one! And so I’ll finish by simply saying that I loved this book – which I hadn’t expected to, considering the problems I had with An Instance of the Fingerpost. This is a book I’d definitely like to re-read one day because I’m sure my knowledge of some of the later revelations would bring new meaning to the earlier parts of the book. I might even decide to try Fingerpost again too!