STONE’S FALL by Iain Pears (1)

Book Quote:

“Money,” he said wearily, looking out of window as though he was seeing a golden age go by.  “All the world is now convertible to money.  Power, influence, peace and war.  It used to be that the sole determinant was the number of men you could march out to meet your enemies.  Now more depends on the convertibility of your currency, its reputation among the bankers.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky (MAY 18, 2009)

Iain Pears’s Stone’s Fall opens in France in 1953 with the burial of Madame Robillard, who passed away in her eighties.  The first part of the book is narrated by Matthew Braddock who had met Robillard (then known as Elizabeth, Lady Ravenscliff) when she was in her forties.  The year was 1909, and twenty-five year old Matthew was a crime reporter for a London newspaper.  Elizabeth summons Matthew a fortnight after the death of her husband, John Stone, Lord Ravenscliff, who died after he fell or was pushed out of an open window in his study.  She offers Matthew a great deal of money to look into her husband’s professional and personal affairs.  There are a number of questions that she wants answered:  Was Stone’s death accidental or a result of foul play?  Why did he leave a huge bequest to a child, whom, he states in his will, “I have never previously acknowledged?”  

Why did Stone grant a legacy to Mrs. Esther Vincotti of Italy?   After examining her husband’s papers carefully, Elizabeth finds nothing to shed light on these matters.  She tells Matthew that, even after twenty years of marriage, she and her husband were very much in love and that he had not been in the habit of keeping secrets from her.  That is why she is willing to pay Matthew handsomely to dig deeper and give her the information that she craves for her peace of mind.

Thus begins a lengthy narrative that moves backwards in time.  Pears takes us to London in 1909, Paris in 1890, and finally, to Venice in 1867.  Part Two is narrated by Henry Cort, a shadowy figure who crossed paths with John Stone and Elizabeth and knows a great many of their secrets.  Part Three is narrated by Stone himself.  The first part is not that compelling and some will be tempted to put the book down after the first hundred pages.  Initially, it is difficult to care about the deceased and his wife, about whom we know little, or about Matthew, who barely makes a living as a journalist.  Matthew eagerly accepts Elizabeth’s generous stipend, hoping to improve his lowly financial position.  However, when he starts investigating and finds anomalies in Stone’s business dealings, his curiosity gets the better of him.   What he learns shocks and alarms him, and his continued involvement in the Stone case will put him in grave danger.

Pears takes a huge gamble, expecting the reader to keep track of dozens of characters, some of whom are not what they seem to be, and an incredibly convoluted plot.  The author assumes that we will be willing to stick with a narrative that moves in many different directions, and that hinges, to a large extent, on arcane details of banking and politics; not everyone will finds this subject matter particularly compelling or comprehensible.  Does Pears’s gamble pay off?  Yes and no. Until part three, Stone’s Fall is a tough slog.  There is a great deal going on but, for quite some time, the point of it all is elusive.  It is only in the third section of the book that the tale at last comes to brilliant life.  We get to know Stone intimately, discover how he becomes a captain of industry, and watch him commit grievous errors for which he will pay dearly.  At last, this cipher becomes human and the final pages are riveting.  Many hitherto undisclosed facts are revealed, finally enabling us to make sense of what has occurred in the previous sections.  The ending of Stone’s Fall, although not completely believable, is deeply poignant.  Pears explores a number of themes:  Men who are familiar with the intricacies of making money and the inner workings of government wield enormous power (a timely topic in our troubled times).  Without love, wealth and social status provide scant satisfaction.  A person is revered after his death not for his power and influence, but for his good works, compassion, and personal honor.  Although determined readers will diligently plow through this dense novel, Stone’s Fall will, alas, bring less hardy souls to their knees long before they reach the final page.  Still, the magnificent part three almost makes the whole task worthwhile.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 8 readers
PUBLISHER: Spiegel & Grau (May 5, 2009)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AMAZON PAGE: Stone’s Fall
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Review of The Portrait

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May 18, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, France, Mystery/Suspense, Thriller/Spy/Caper, United Kingdom

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