Friday, August 07, 2009

Stone's Fall

Seldom, if ever, have I read a 594-page book that leaves me with so little to say about it. The problem is not that I dislike Stone's Fall or that I did not enjoy it because I did very much enjoy the book and I am rating it a very solid 4.0. No, the problem is that this is a very complicated story and it is told in a way that makes it difficult to describe the book without wandering into a minefield filled with "spoilers." So I am going to be very careful in what I say about Stone's Fall, hoping that my enthusiasm about the book still comes through.

The story begins in 1953, at a funeral being attended by Matthew Braddock, a retired reporter who only coincidentally became aware that the woman whose funeral he is attending has died. Elizabeth Stone played a large role in Braddock's earlier life but he has had not contact with, or word about, her in decades. Braddock will not, however, just walk away from the funeral to resume his retirement and old age. Rather, after the funeral, he is provided with a packet containing detailed memoirs that will answer all the questions he had failed to answer more than forty years earlier.

London 1909 - Braddock is hired by Elizabeth Stone to find the illegitimate child mentioned in her late husband's will so that his estate can be settled in an orderly and timely manner. Elizabeth Stone, who claims to have been unaware of the existence of such a child before seeing her husband's will, tells Braddock that she is not overly concerned about the child's existence and that she simply wants the child found so that her husband's affairs can be finalized to the benefit of his heirs and creditors.

Braddock, though, being the suspicious reporter that he is, begins to look into Stone's business affairs and soon comes to question the way that John Stone supposedly met his death. Was the fall from a window that killed him an accident as is officially reported by the police? Was he pushed from the window? Did he jump? What does soon become apparent is that neither John Stone nor his widow, Elizabeth, are the people they seem to be.

Stone's Fall is told in three separate parts, each part taking place in a different city and in a different generation. Part I, London 1909, is the story of Matthew Braddock's investigation and what he learns about the Stones, both in the past and in the present. It ends at the point at which Braddock believes that he is forever done with the Stones and their confusing history.

Part II, Paris 1890, takes the story back a full generation and explains how Elizabeth came to be the woman she is and how she first encountered her husband. This section develops some of the minor characters from Part I and begins to hint at answers to the questions left open by the first segment of the book. One character, in particular, Henry Cort, takes center stage and the reader is given insight into how the man who appeared to be such a villain in Part I came to be that kind of person and what motivated him to do the things he did for his country.

Part III, Venice 1867, takes another step backward in time and allows John Stone himself to tell the story of his life, the story of a young man who discovers that he has a talent for making money and for rationalizing his behavior and code of ethics to his own satisfaction right into old age. It is in this part that the whole story and all of its rather complicated character relationships finally become clear. That does not happen until very near the last paragraph of the book in a revelation that will have most readers shaking their heads in admiration. Others might just find the ending to be a bit to coincidental to suit them (I was one of those and, thus, my rating of 4.0 rather than a higher one).

Iain Pears has created a book that is both beautifully constructed and beautifully written, a book in which his readers can totally immerse themselves into three very different worlds. It is a book that demands complete attention from its readers if they are to feel fully its intended impact. Its length, in conjunction with its complexity, means that it is not an easy book to read, but it is definitely a book that rewards those who give it the time and attention it deserves.

Rated at: 4.0

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