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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth sticking with
This is a book which I find far harder to pigeonhole than other Iain Pears novels. Its certainly a historically based novel, and there are murders , although its not really a whodunnit in any conventional sense of the word.
This is a deeply philosophical book. It makes the reader confront the age old questions - is it an evil act in itself to stand by and let evil...
Published on 14 April 2004 by Mr. D. Clark

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant in some ways; difficult to read
I loved 'Instance of the Fingerpost': I must have given ten copies to friends. One of the most thought provoking books I have read. (And I like Pears more lighthearted detective books which I discovered completely coincidentally.)
Fingerpost used the different perspectives offered by a number of eyewitnesses watching the same events to explore how people think and...
Published on 19 Jan 2004 by Ben the Doctor


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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth sticking with, 14 April 2004
By 
Mr. D. Clark "londinius" - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
This is a book which I find far harder to pigeonhole than other Iain Pears novels. Its certainly a historically based novel, and there are murders , although its not really a whodunnit in any conventional sense of the word.
This is a deeply philosophical book. It makes the reader confront the age old questions - is it an evil act in itself to stand by and let evil happen - is it ever justifiable to do a wrong in order to achieve a right - can you preserve civilization by acting barbarically ? I don't go along with criticisms which I have read that Iain Pears should have written a learned treatise rather than a novel on this subject. Like several of the characters in the novel, the reader is led subtly on a path towards understanding. The novel is never didactic, and rather works towards the conclusion that there are no answers, but it is possible for human beings to arrive at a deeper understanding.
This is not to say that you have to tap into these deep and philosophical levels to ejnoy the novel. There are actually three intertwined stories here, set in Provence in three seperate time periods. These tell the stories of Manlius, living at the time of the crumbling of Roman rule in Gaul, of Olivier, living in papal Avignon at the time of the Black Death, and of Julien, living in Petain's Vichy France. The three interwoven narratives are told with skill, and each held my interest. Iain Pears has the ability to effortlessly recreate the flavour of a particular place in time - readers of "An Instance of the Fingerpost" will not be disappointed on this score. His prose is clear and engaging. The endings of each of the three strands of the narrative contain twists which will leave you satisfied.
For all of that I do have one small moan. The title of the book is "The Dream of Scipio" which I originally thought was a reference back to the "Somnium Scipionis" by Cicero . The commentary on this real work, by Macrobius , ensured that it became highly influential upon late medieval literature and thought, spawning a whole poetic tradition of the "Dream Vision" . The fact is though that "The Dream of Scipio" - a version written by Manlius, a main character, promises to be at the heart of the novel, and yet it really isn't. Iain Pears really builds it up throughout a stupendous first part of the novel, then conveniently drops it.This is my only real criticism of the novel, but it did leave me a little unsatisfied. This is not , for me , a mystery centered on a historical manuscript in the way that Perez-Reverte's "The Dumas Club" is.
Make no mistake, this is a very serious novel, and its not for you if all you're looking for is a little escapist fun - and there's nothing wrong with that, either. However, if you don't mind being given serious food for thought, then this may well be the one for you.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly successful novel of ideas, 14 May 2004
This review is from: The Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
I can understand entirely why some readers of this have found it difficult, particularly with the weight of expectation created by An Instance of the Fingerpost. But I cannot agree that it's badly constructed, over-written or 'should have been a PhD'.
Fingerpost was a good book, but the Dream of Scipio is something of a different order altogether: this is the most remarkable book I have read in a long time (and I read a lot of books...)
I think what makes it so unusual in contemporary fiction is in fact precisely its construction: this is a novel with much plot, but not as such driven by it (certainly not in the same way that Pears' other fiction is); with beautiful use of language, but not exceptional (lyrical and meditative, yes); with very well developed characters, patiently and humanely presented. All of these could be the engine of a book, but in this case it is a 'suite' of ideas, epitomised by the manuscript of its title - which is why the title is ultimately appropriate, even if a reading of the book suggests otherwise. I can't think of another book so meditative in tone and so patient in its expositions that is at the same time so compelling to read, always drawing you forward.
In the same way that Pears judiciously avoids presenting more than the merest fragments of the Dream manuscript, Olivier de Noyen's poetry and Julien Barneuve's essay alike, the glimpses of these, just as they caught sigh of one another in turn, create a slowly unfurling sense of an extraordinary whole - and make the book deserve to be thought about, thought about again, and above all protected from barbarians, civilised or otherwise.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever fiction is not dead, 18 July 2006
This review is from: The Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
Sometimes I despair at the number of times I hear people in publishing reject a book for being too difficult or too intellectual, as if these are automatically bad things. Here is a novel which is fabulously, gloriously intellectual, taking the reader through philosophy, history, academia, almost anything else you care to mention, and still doing it with a sizzling plot and extraordinary depth of characterisation. I loved the fact that I couldn't put the book down and that it sent my brain fizzing and spinning with ideas. I ended up reading history books on the visigoths and the fall of the roman empire, obsessed with discovering more background. I even struggled through Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. Now, that's what I call literature - something that not only gives you pleasure as you read, but inspires and excites you. The only problem was as I finished the last page feeling a sense of despair that even if I lived for the whole 1,500 years the book covered, I would never, ever write anything a tenth as good.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An "impressively original and audaciously imagined" novel, 26 April 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Dream of Scipio (Hardcover)
In the history of Manlius, 5th Century Roman aristocrat and bishop of Vaison, student of NeoPlatonism, we learn his design for preserving Roman culture while ceding its temporal power. In the tragic life of 14th Century poet Olivier de Noyen, who finds a manuscript in the library of a monastery near Montpellier and comes to understand it under a rabbi's tutelage, we study the Schism and the career of Pope Clement and his great bull, Cum Natura Humana, although we think we're witnessing a version of Dante's own love story with Beatrice. In the life of Julien Barneuve, who died at 3:29 on August 18, 1943, in a terrible fire, we see how these fragments of the past, revealed to us bit by bit in an ancient text, form a connected thread. This book is billed as "three stories of love" but forget that, it's a wide-ranging philosophical inquiry into deep issues of faith, policy, strategies, and, underlying Roman, medieval, and Second World War Provence, the role of Jews in European (not always Christian) society. Where does virtue lie in society under siege, and what are the obligations of the individual, the sacrifice required?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece!, 5 Jun 2006
By 
S. Vento (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
This book will stay with me forever! I have enjoyed it from the first page to the last - it has truly filled my mind. The characters in this book have so much depth, the level of erudition and historical insight are remarkable. This is not your average page-turner though, reading this book requires a certain level of concentration - a rudimentary knowledge of ancient philosophical thought (especially Plato) would also help grasp this book more fully. Iain Pears is definitely one of my favourite contemporary writers. I also loved An instance of the Fingerpost.

In an era when the whole world is 'ranting and raving' about the Da Vinci Code (very unappealing to me!), I am so grateful for Iain Pears and the Dream of Scipio!

Serena - London
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive and challenging, 5 Dec 2004
By 
Jason Mills "jason10801" (Accrington, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
I hugely enjoyed "Fingerpost" as a whodunnit page-turner with higher aspirations. "Scipio" has ambitions much greater still. In achieving these it sacrifices the easy readability of "Fingerpost", but if you are willing to put the work in, you will find this is a deeply rewarding and thought-provoking novel, almost too clever for its own good.
The intertwined narratives repeat history as variations on a theme, and, not as a cop-out but as a measured conclusion, the book leaves the reader to decide on the rights and wrongs. This isn't a read for the beach, but you will not forget it, and may be worrying over it for some time afterwards...
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Civilisation as we know we could end at any second..., 1 Sep 2003
By 
Michelle Pusey (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
I loved this book. I took it on holiday expecting something not too far from Instance of the Fingerpost and although the themes of faith versus logic persisted the characters were far more sympathetic. The love story was beautiful and still felt unrequited even when it wasn't. The stories opened up whole areas I know nothing about: anything to do with Rome (!) and the middle ages and to a degree the occupation of France. I was left wanting to understand how these social and cultural/political calamaties get carried along but their own inertia and end in disaster, ok maybe exclude the Black Death from that.
It was hard going, but the writing was beautiful enough and the ideas dragged me along by the scruff of the neck. I knew when I started the final chapter, well I wont mention the end.
I think at this point in time our "civilisation" is on the abyss of a huge global catastrophe. This book shows how our humanity insists that we carry on with the minutiae of our daily lives and how we risk missing the horros that surround us and may engulf us.... ok so it's not always a barrel of laughs. Great read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex, intertwined and thought provoking, 21 Aug 2002
By 
This review is from: The Dream of Scipio (Hardcover)
Having read and loved An Instance of the Fingerpost as well as a handful of Pears's more lightweight detective novels I was very eager to read The Dream of Scipio. Whilst this new work lacks some of the excitement of "Instance", it makes up for this with fantatatically well developed characterisation and an enormously clever and well thought out plot. Each of the three main characters face their own crises in the real world of their time with a background in classical philosophy and literature. Each of their stories examines the conflict between practical necessity and enlightened principal. Each of the main male characters posseses a spiritual counterpart in the shape of a woman. Ultimately only one of the characters really passes the test, forgoing expediency at great cost in order to live according to more admirable principle. This is not an easy read, indeed it can be quite challenging, but ultimately it is enormously satisfying.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel of great skill, 15 July 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Dream of Scipio (Hardcover)
I read this novel voraciously. It kept me hungry and fed as I was reading. Pears handled the three stories woven into this one novel with his customary skill and verve. More than that, Pears crafted this novel with his wonderful written style. It was a pleasure to read. I finished the novel this morning. I have only one reservation. This story, or these stories, elegantly told, and cleverly sketched, failed to occasion an emotional response. At one point, I was (I think) emotionally impressed, but it did not resonate as it should have done. This is a novel which appeals to the mind and not to the heart, although I think it tried to achieve the latter more than the former. Whilst this novel touches on some philosophical issues, they were few and far between and few answers or ideas followed. The most interesting ideas concerned the essence of virtue, which was elucidated by the unfolding stories. The book succeeded with some mental clarity but without evoking genuine sympathy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB, 2 Sep 2006
By 
M. J. Walley "martynwalley" (Worcester) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Dream Of Scipio (Paperback)
What an amazing book. I got to the end and turned back to page one without even putting the kettle on.
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The Dream Of Scipio
The Dream Of Scipio by Iain Pears (Paperback - 3 April 2003)
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