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The Dream Of Scipio Paperback – 3 Apr 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (3 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099284588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099284581
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 193,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

With his admirable craftsmanship and the rich emotional life Iain Pears grants his beautifully drawn characters, he has created a considerable following for his remarkable novels. The Dream of Scipio is a novel of great ambition that simultaneously engages the emotional and intellectual capacities of the reader while always remaining compulsively readable.

Set in Provence at three crucial moments of Western civilisation (the final collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the Black Death in the 14th century, and the Second World War in the 20th), Pears presents the lives of three men. Manlius Hippomanes is an aristocrat, obsessively concerned with the preservation of Roman civilisation; Olivier de Noyen is a poet; and Julian Barneuve is an intellectual who makes the mistake of joining the corrupt Vichy government. Pears weaves his dazzling and discursive narrative through the troubled lives of each man, the common thread being the classical text which is the book’s title-- a work of challenging philosophical inquiry. The other common denominator is the love each man has for a remarkable woman.

It is difficult to know where to begin in praising the achievement of this rigorous but infinitely beguiling book. The novel of ideas has been moribund for quite some time, but Pears breathes rude life into the genre with an epic that echoes the achievements of Robert Graves and André Gide. The balance between the key questions of existence and the passionate, life-affirming solidity that the author grants to his characters is impeccable, and all three protagonists are forcefully characterised.

But above all, this is a piece of storytelling that almost redefines the very notion of the art: luminescent entertainment by a master, even more impressive than An Instance of the Fingerpost, the book which first drew attention to Pears’ highly individual skills.--Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Irresistibly seizes the imagination" (Evening Standard)

"Combining the visceral pleasures of a thriller with the more intellectual excitements of a novel of ideas... Beautifully constructed...never less than engrossing" (Sunday Telegraph)

"Vivid, admirably imagined, ultimately very moving...This is a novel of the very highest ambition...immediate, sensuous, beautiful" (Alan Massie Scotsman)

"Combines dazzling erudition with assured narrative skills to offer glimpses of some of history's darkest corners, and stark and timely challenges to the very notions of civilisation and progress" (Independent on Sunday)

"A dazzling hall of mirrors... Ferociously ambitious... Illumined by a fizzing passion for the recondite" (Daily Telegraph)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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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Format: 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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Format: 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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