Saturday, 9 June 2012

Book #53 The Quincunx by Charles Palliser

The Quincunx

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser was recommended to me by Internet buddy Helen who knows I like Victoriana style literature. In The Quincunx a young boy named John grows up under a cloud, his mother alludes to their being in danger but does not state what this danger is, and they live under a false name.

I could not decide whether this book, a story of an extended family's fight over a will was a homage to Dickens or mocking Dickens, it certainly feels like a satire and therefore mocking of the sort of thing that Dickens produced. There are elements of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and most fundamentally Bleak House throughout the entire tale. Henrietta for example reminded me of Estella and the character of Bissett reminded me of a female Uriah Heep.

There is plenty of suspense and action as John lurches from disastrous episode to disastrous episode, but I found I became infuriated by how often he is repeatedly tricked and cheated, suspects the wrong people and doesn't trust the right ones and ends up in a worst state than he was in before.

The book incites genuine feeling in the reader which not all books manage to do. In this book, it's severe irritation in the early stages with both conniving servant Bissett and foolish mother Mary. Others such as Miss Quilliam manage to pull off both respect and pity. So in that manner it is a well written novel because you do genuinely care.

One of the things I liked best about The Quincunx particularly in the initial stages was that the shadowy figures pulling the strings behind the scenes are not initially referred to as who they are but by what they represent. Power, Justice, Equity, Law. You don't know who they are, but you know what they are I thought this was clever. The mystery aspect too is genuinely intricate.

On the other hand the inter connections and general ancestral history of the family are (probably deliberately) highly convoluted and genuinely confusing. Towards the end it feels farcical, as heirs seem to sprout up from every corner. The Quincunx at over 1,000 pages long is quite the task to read in terms of sheer man hours, and in my opinion could have been pared back by about 400 pages.

A good book, but only if you like the style of writing of Dickens and his peers . 8/10 

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