Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard

January 20, 2011 at 03:05 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Historical Fiction, Theatrical Plays) (, , , , , , )


Tom Stoppard is far too clever for his own good. This is an iceberg of a play, with a monumental cusp jutting into full view, and the plain and obvious truth that there is much more beneath the surface, daring readers to dash their ships against it in vain effort to decode the layers of meaning. Quite simply, it is certainly not necessary to completely understand what exactly is happening in this play, in order to thoroughly enjoy it. MIT students of thermodynamics might find an additional half dozen layers of meaning, and scientific postulating in these pages; and perhaps they are there. But quite apart from Tom Stoppard’s genius, and the nine tenths that lurk beneath the surface ready to shred the hulls of readers sailing too close, this play is beautiful.

The link between 1809 and 1993 is immaculately laid out, with revelations doled out in small enough quantities to titilate and delight readers, instead of shock or surprise. There is an air of familiarity in characters we have only just met, and a cloak of mystery over names we know, with the 1809-1812 scenes having above all the feeling of a half-remembered dream. Stoppard is in no hurry to enlighten his readers, and handles his creations lovingly and with gentle humour. Even with those he destroys or ruins, there is nothing jarring or sudden; only a sense of melancholy nostalgia, and a lingering desire to reread the play immediately.

Septimus Hodge is a delightful Oscar Wilde character; the drawling, untouchable, debonair and dapper young gentleman: he is chillingly re-rendered as the Genius of the Place, with the implied atrophy of everything dashing and polite about his character, and the clear impression that his gradual changes and development are absolutely genuine and true to life. If an intelligent, witty and handsome philosopher ever came apart at the seams and turned into a haunted hermit, it would surely look exactly like this. Thomasina admirably fills the emptiness of Hannah’s character, and seems to speak with Stoppard’s own voice, providing direction for the narrative, and a central core for the story, all the while remaining blind to her own fate and at least half blind to the various infidelities and submerged ploys and plots of those around her; a delightful and appealing combination. Altogether flawless, and a truly beautiful and symmetric read.


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