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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

An Inter-Textual Jigsaw

Arcadia: A novel - Iain Pears

Iain Pears' new novel begins by with a description of a pastoral landscape that feels just a shade derivative; and that is entirely is as it should be since we soon discover that it's part of a story being written by Henry Lytten, a lecturer in English literature.


Lytten is a former colleague of Tolkien with a past life in espionage that is a little reminiscent of George Smiley. His feudal fantasy is a donnish indulgence but the elaborate fiction he is concocting to uncover a traitor in British Intelligence is rather more serious.


What Henry doesn't know, however, is that his fantasy world is about to be hijacked and activated as part of a time-travelling mathematician's experiment to create an alternative reality.


All of these plotlines become deliciously entangled as characters invade each other's narratives and create unforeseen plot-twists for their respective stories, A schoolgirl from the nineteen seventies is mistaken for a fairy. Security officers from the future are arrested as Soviet spies. Lytten enters his own story and is worshipped as a deity.


Sometimes sombre, often farcical, Arcadia is a glorious inter-textual jigsaw and a witty commentary on the creative process. I can see it becoming a cult book.