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The following quotation is from Greg Egan's novel Permutation City:

The terrace house, one hundred and forty years old, was shaped like a cereal box. It had originally been part of a row of eight; four on one side had been gutted and remodeled into offices for a firm of architects; the other three had been demolished at the turn of the century to make way for a road that had never been built.

I'm wondering why the Past Perfect is so heavily used in the second sentence? I know that quite often P/Perfect and P/Simple can be used interchangeably:

The past perfect is neutral as regards the differences expressed by the past tense and present perfect. This means that if we put the events further into the past, they both end up in the past perfect... When describing one event following another in the past, we can show their relation by using the past perfect for the earlier event, or else we can use the past tense for both, relying on a conjunction (e.g. after, before, when) to show which event took place earlier... (Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik - A Communicative Grammar of English)

So, it seems the quotation from Egan's novel might be rendered as follows:

The terrace house, one hundred and forty years old, was shaped like a cereal box; two stories high, but scarcely wide enough for a staircase. Originally it was a part of a row of eight; four on one side were gutted and remodeled into offices for a firm of architects; the other three were demolished at the turn of the century to make way for a road that had never been built.

Is there any difference in meaning? Which of the variants seems better worded? I don't know English well enough to be able to assess such nuances. For my ear Egan's style sounds a bit heavy. He uses Pluperfect very intensively which results in phrases like this one, for one more example:

When he had asked for a package of results that would persuade “the skeptics” about the prospects for an Autoverse biosphere, he hadn’t been thinking of academics in the artificial life scene. He’d wanted to convince his clients that... and so on.

Why not put it simply?

When he asked for a package of results that would persuade “the skeptics” about the prospects for an Autoverse biosphere, he wasn’t thinking of academics in the artificial life scene. He wanted to convince his clients that...

What is your opinion?

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    This is just my opinion, but I like the past perfect version better. I can't say why. I know that Vladimir Nabokov, a very famous prose writer, also liked to use the past perfect. I'm interested in hearing what people say about the effects on them of each tense. – GoldenGremlin Jul 25 '16 at 16:12
  • I think the dichotomy here is "had been...to make way" versus "were...to make way". The former sounds better as it better illustrates the relationship between the demolishing of the buildings and the building of the road – user180089 Jul 25 '16 at 16:34
  • Questions which lack results of research are out of scope. Interpretation requests are out of scope. Questions that invite many equally valid opinions are out of scope. For an introduction to the site, take the Tour. For help writing a good question, see How to Ask. – MetaEd Jul 25 '16 at 16:53
  • @Silenus Thank you fou your comment! Are you a native speaker? I'm also a huge admirer of Nabokov's prose but let's not forget that he wrote it mainly in the first 2/3 of the 20th century. John Fowles, whose style I like very much, uses Pluperfect rather scarcely. So, it seems that a frequent use of the Past Perfect might have a kind of "literary" effect, making wording appear as "literary", not mere "spoken" language. – Mv Log Jul 25 '16 at 17:16
  • @MετάEd ~ I think the only thing out of scope here is your comment. The research is in the fact that he provided a book source and gave a paraphrase of it; this isn't an interpretation question as it's asking between the difference of 'past perfect and past simple' IN A SPECIFIC INSTANCE; it's not a question that invites equally valid opinions as you can see by Colin Fine's answer. – user180089 Jul 25 '16 at 17:22
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This is a typical use of the past perfect. In a narrative like this, the use of the past perfect establishes that there is a temporal focus (even though the writer has not given any explicit information about it), and placed other events in the past relative to that focus. The reader can expect that the following sentences will relate to that temporal focus.

If he used the simple past, it would not establish a temporal focus, so the default focus of the present would apply. If the following sentences were in the past, it would not be immediately clear when they were relative to the remodelling of the houses.

  • Thank you for reply, but I'm not certain regarding the second part of your answer. It seems that the complements of time - originally... at the turn of the century... - establish quite clear temporal relations between events. The temporal focus has been established in the first phrase, what follows must relate to that phrase, otherwise it'd be incoherent to use dummy "it" in the beginning of the second sentence. For me it's perfectly consistent with the rule I've mentioned in my question, so the Past Simple is possible, IMO. – Mv Log Jul 25 '16 at 17:49
  • Hmm. I'll amend my last paragraph: it would fail to establish a temporal focus, so there isn't one (rather than defaulting to the present). When I read your version without the pluperfect, I don't get the sense that the writing is anchored in a time, but that it is splayed out over the whole history of the houses. Sometimes that is what you want, of course, but to set the scene before a narrative I think giving it the focus makes it sharper. – Colin Fine Jul 25 '16 at 18:53

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