19 August 2009

Recent reading: An instance of the fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a mixture of a historical novel and a whodunit, set in Restoration Englisn.

I've read a number of books about the period recently -- Samuel Pepys's diary (the concise version), a history of the Restoration by Ronald Hutton, and an account of the great fire of London.

This one is set in Oxford, and several of the characters are real historical personages. It is rather unusual in that the same set of events is described from the point of view of four different people, and are seen very differently, depending on the roles and interests of the characters concerned.

One thing that stood out for me was the attitude of most of these characters towards servants, and their emphasis on class, or as the book describes it, "station". Those of higher station seem to have had the same attitude towards the lower orders as white Rhodesians had towards blacks. One of my mother's Rhodesian cousins described her ex-husband's habit of pressing a lighted cigarette into the necks of blacks who didn't get out of his way fast enough when walking down the street. So in Restoration England, according to this book, the members of the upper classes seem to have expected to beat their servants if they were "insolent", and to be shocked if the servants did not expect this.

Now perhaps this was an exaggerated reaction agaist the more egalitarian society that was and ideal of the Commonwealth period. but it seems rather an abrupt change.

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jams o donnell said...

I really enjoyed it when I read it some years ago

CherryPie said...

It sounds like a book that I would enjoy.

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