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


  1. I've encountered books like that too, where the whole story practically would be a spoiler so what do you say in a review?!!! But you still managed to make it sound pretty interesting!!

  2. I've wanted to read this, but other books have gotten in the way, if you know what I mean ? LOL

  3. Oh I'm glad you liked it! Yes, the end left my jaw hanging in disbelief and admiration for how he tied EVERYTHING together in one fell swoop.

    I don't think his "The Instance of the Fingerpost" has such a dramatic end (it's been years since I read it), but it is similar in that there are plot twists you just cannot see coming but yet are perfectly logical (and a little less outrageous) once he explains them.

  4. Well, I'm glad it's just that it's hard to describe and not that you hate the book, since it's on my towering TBR.

  5. I hope I did it justice, Rhapsody. It deserves to be read by a lot of folks because it is a well-crafted book and must have been a real chore for its author.

  6. I sure know what you mean, Diane. You should see the stack on my desk right now...not to mention the one in my bedroom closet. I'll have to post a picture sometime.

  7. Factotum, I really admire authors who can produce something as complicated as this and bring it all together at the end - coherently. It was like working a puzzle and I couldn't wait to fit the last piece in its spot. Thanks for recommending it.

  8. BookFool, do let me know what you think and how long it took you to read it...just curious.

  9. I just finished this book. While I liked it, the structure made it a bit confusing. The end took me by surprise.

  10. It very definitely required a high level of concentration, Anonymous. I had a bit of trouble in the first few pages of Parts II and III until I could rearrange all the characters and their relationships in my mind. Going backward from generation-to-generation was a clever approach but much more demanding of the reader than going in the other direction.


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