An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

(Book 150) Yes, we’ve reached the milestone of having read 150 books together. I gave each of the girls a new framed document displaying the 50 books we’ve read since the idea for Book Club 101 originated. Perhaps, I’ll add a photo later.

Chris hosted this event and there was much discussion over the appetizers of cheese, paté, tomatoes, olives, crackers and fresh figs stuffed with bacon, sherry vinegar and red pepper flakes. There was great discussion about the deliciousness of the appetizers as well as discussion of the book. Most of us who finished the book agreed that there were times when we thought we wouldn’t finish! Many of us were overwhelmed by the detail of each of the four narrators’ accounts. Some of us wanted to stab one or more of the fictional narrators. But those who finished, agreed that they were very happy to have stayed with it, to reach the fourth narrator’s telling of the story. It’s hard to give a book like that a solid recommendation and yet a few of us did!

Chris noted that she found it surprisingly engaging; we were very intrigued that many of the characters were historical figures cleverly inserted into the story: the mathematician John Wallis, the historian Anthony Wood, the philosopher John Locke, the scientists Robert Boyle and Richard Lower, spymaster John Thurloe, inventor Samuel Morland and the Anglican cleric Thomas Ken. I found it interesting that the author took a bit of a shot at John Locke on p. 107 saying there was: “Something about the man which could always inveigle himself into the good graces of the powerful.” I appreciated the bookended quality of the chapter about the dove and the vacuum; the bird trapped of air seems to die, but returns to life when the air is returned. The same is true for Sarah, or we believe it to be. The historical foundation of the book gives way to the premise that in every generation Jesus Christ is born again, and in each incarnation is doomed to be martyred, come back to life, disappear – and be reborn again in the next generation. My mother would have been proud that I recognized the moment of Peter denying Jesus three times when Anthony Wood reports that people came to him in the Fleur de Lys, the Feathers and finally the Mitre, and “I shrugged, said I did not know, none of my concern, she might have done it for all I know.” Later leaving: “a cock crow strange for this time of night,”

We discussed the medical aspects of the book, the concept that at this time, doctors were just beginning to leave behind the “aspect of Venus” — to move beyond astrology in medicine and concern for the humours. We enjoyed that notion that one of the characters stops for a blood-letting, as we might take a Tylenol, to see if that would make him feel better. Yet there were aspects of medical thought that seemed not unlike those one hears espoused today: You can’t get pregnant if you take no pleasure in the act. I can only imagine the serious blow to population growth if that were true.

And of course we talked about the treatment of women: da Cola tells Anne that Sarah is more outspoken than a girl has a right to be. Anne corrects, she is more outspoken than a girl is allowed to be. “Da Cola: Is there a difference?” When I read this aloud at the meeting, Linda, jumped in with “Yes, sir, there is.” Adamant but polite.

We had a little fun talking about the comment on p. 204, “Every man alive can remember exactly what they were doing when they heard that the King had been beheaded.” While we are used to instant news, our reactions all occur in the same moments, or at least the same day. We are spread all over the world but our reaction is almost simultaneous. With the slow travel of news in the time period, there was probably a fairly wide spread of “when” they heard.

A barrage of thoughts and comments. We gave Geri the floor to address the quote: “The Irish use words of honey to disguise their natures.” We marveled a bit at Anne’s battle cry: “Follow, or I die alone!” I particularly enjoyed the really horrible review of the King Lear production. And again, how pertinent to today is: “You wish to guard the integrity of good society, yet you use the habits of the gutter to do so.”

Finally to dinner. Chris made her own ravioli with her own pasta machine. I buried the lede. She made butternut squash ravioli with sage and it was divine. But I should go back and say that Chris took her theme for the night’s cuisine from da Cola’s Venice, a Venetian evening complete with fireworks. The meal was cleverly influenced by Brunetti’s Cookbook, which includes recipes and excerpts from the Guido Brunetti books by Donna Leon, as well as essays on food and life in Venice. I’ve mentioned the first course of butternut squash ravioli with sage, but I did not mention that it was served with a wonderful caprese salad. The main course was turkey breast stuffed with prosciutto, provolone and spinach served with rosemary-garlic potatoes and a bitter greens and pear salad. Dessert included two offerings (pieces of both came home with me) — a Torta al Ciocolato with apricot jam between the layers and an Apple, Lemon and Orange cake soaked in Grand Marnier.

I’ve been giving “body part party favors” this year and tonight’s was witch’s fingers for this Instance of the Fingerpost. I have to include a photo. Just casually listening. Nothing untoward.

As we enjoyed our desserts, I made the girls give their rating of the book on a five star system. Mary and Melissa gave it 3 stars, Linda gave 3 and 3/4 (!) stars, Susan and Geri gave it 4 stars, and Chris and I gave it 5 stars. I reserved the right to remove 1/2 star for wanting to stab John Wallis in any or all of his body parts.

Our next meeting will take place at Rosalie’s home on Thursday, November 17.