Story set in 17th century Oxford which begins with the account of Marco da Cola, an Italian physician: he finds himself in England after his family business fails, and responds to a plea for help from Sarah Blundy, a young char-woman who's mother is dangerously ill following a fall.
The first part of the book is written by Marco, and it is sort of vaguely interesting; it ends without any particular resolution, and then the second part, taking the form of a journal by one of the characters who appeared fleetingly in Marco's story, begins. He appears to have read Marco's account and claims to be able to present a more accurate history of the events Marco related.
The pattern repeats - there are four parts in all. It's an interesting idea: all four narrators appear unreliable and so you don't know which bits of which accounts might be "true" - although the last section appears to be the least self-serving and so perhaps most plausible.
There were a few places that I found quite effective: e.g. in the second part, Prescott (the narrator), makes a promise:
"I give you my word..." I gave her a lot with those words, and she appreciated it, and it was with a heavy heart indeed that I felt obliged to go back on them in later years...This episode occurs after the woman in question does Prescott a great favour, and she's asked something in return: I was thinking - "what a git!" - because you know that his betrayal would completely ruin the woman in question. Another quote I noted (although I think this was from a different section) because I liked it
The services women provide in mo matter compensate for the inadequacy of their company, and the liberties they curtail.
But I found it a bit of a slog. We know from Marco's account that Sarah comes to a sticky end, but she is such a pivotal figure that I guessed straight away what had "really" happened, but had to wait until the last part of the fourth section to have my suspicions confirmed.
As well as Sarah's story, there were a few loose ends that got tied up towards the end but none of them seemed particularly worth all the effort of reading 600-odd pages to get there.
So I thought it was a good idea, but didn't grip me enough. Not nearly as good as Stone's Fall.
Completed : 10-May-2014