An extraordinary modern novel in the Victorian tradition, Charles Palliser has created something extraordinary--a plot within a plot within a plot of family secrets, mysterious clues, low-born birth, high-reaching immorality, and, always, always the fog-enshrouded, enigmatic character of 19th century -- London itself.
"You read the first page and down you wonderfully fall, into a long, large, wide world of fiction."
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"You read the first page and down you wonderfully fall, into a long, large, wide world of fiction."
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
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------------------------------------------------------This book of course sets out to recreate a traditional nineteenth century novel. The language, the plot curves, the characters, the settings, these elements all work admirably towards that end. If you are transported by historically accurate nineteenth century details; if you love very, very complex mysteries; if intrigues and the Gordian knots of family genealogies lure you; if the you are charmed by the reconstruction of pre-Victorian plot conventions, this book is definitely for you. The obvious scholarship that went into this work is clearly impressive.There are also very compelling studies in pre-Victorian class structure, economy, and land speculation--with its attendant side effects and spin offs. Many of the characters are well defined and endearing. So the cumulative whole of this book is worth your time.But I, myself, have never been a big fan of mysteries; and although this book aspires to be more than simply a classic of the mystery genre, there are enough of the plot systems required for a mystery, included in this book, for [book:The Quincunx824986] to be compared effectively to that literary convention. And what I have always found tedious in mysteries is the denouement: that gathering in parlour while the great detective explains, to us, that “…the maidservant couldn’t possibly have killed the Viscount because she was in the conservatory while….” Well about two-thirds of the way into this large book, an exhaustive sequence of denouements begins. “Ah ha! So the countess was really the same woman who……….”“So Exeter is really the grandson of……..”“So the reason that Charles left the banquet so early was……”These start slowly at first; but occur more frequently, and accelerate manically as the conclusion approaches. And because the plot twists, the mysteries, and the revelations are so labyrinthine—so, therefore, are the denouements. And, therefore, these explications become numerous, frequent, and tedious.But many readers, I am certain, will very much enjoy the unraveling of this complex puzzle. And this process allowed a thorough and admirable investigation into human motivations and the results of our actions.So for me this was not what I expected, but a worthwhile read. And it was tedious at times.more
It starts off slow, but once the main cahracters get into london, the movie gets quite interesting and engaging.more
Add a pinch of Trollope's 'Orley Farm' and some Dickens' "Bleak House" and a bit of Collins' 'Armadale" and a big helping of le Fanu's 'the Rose and the Key', you have this novel.more
This is a pastiche of an early Victorian novel, complete with archaic words and quaint spellings, but the author goes into details about things that a Victorian author would not have, such as the squalid lives of the London poor, body-snatching and prostitution.One of the most interesting things about "The Quincunx" is that it is written as if it is a real early 19th century novel. There are obsolete spellings; sopha for sofa, clew for clue and lanthorn for lantern, and archaicslang; blunt for money, flatt for fool, fakement for job (as in a criminal undertaking), pinked for stabbed and prigged for stole. John's mother is a particularly poor speller. When she wrote in her letters for John that the Clothiers were not 'gentile' enough for Nick Clothier to be a good match in marriage for her great-aunt, I thought it was a misspelling and she meant 'genteel'. But later on there are enough hints to make it clear that the Clothiers were of Jewish origin, so did Mary mean gentile after all, or did she mean genteel but make a Freudian slip in her letter, or maybe this is a pun put in deliberately by the author.In the Afterword, Charles Palliser mentions the book that first got him interested in the plight of the poor in Victorian times when he read it as a child. It was called "London Labour and the London Poor" and contained firsthand accounts of the lives of the poor in London, collected by Henry Mayhew who to start his work by the novels of Charles Dickens. It sounds like a fascinating read - if it's not still in print, I'll have to look on abebooks to see whether it's available second-hand.The most interesting of the jobs described in the Quincunx is when John is working the shores with Mr Digweed and Joey. He assumes that 'working the shores' means beachcombing along the river at low tide. However he finds that the toshers' job is much more dangerous than that, as the shores that they search for lost coins and other valuables are actually the sewers deep below London, so amongst other dangers they are risking tunnel collapses and being caught underground by the incoming tide or a rainstorm. I was still confused having read all 1100+ pages plus the author's afterword.Skip the rest of my reviews iif you haven't read the book, as my ramblings about possible solutions to the mystery will make no sense to you anyway. As you read this book, you realise that there are no coincidences. Almost everyone John meets is linked to the mysterious conspiracies surrounding him, but there is always a logical link from one acquaintance to the next.In the afterword Charles Palliser mentions the Swedish translator's problem with the last sentence, due to Swedish having separate words for maternal (morfar) and paternal (farfar) grandfather. Next time I'm in Sweden I'll have to have a look in a bookshop and just read the last sentence to see which word he decided to use.At the beginning of the book, I suspected that John's mother's father was also (incestuously) John's father, due to her embarrassment and confusion every time there was a verbal father/grandfather confusion and when people commented on how much John looked like him. However, later on I changed my mind and anyway that would not fit in with the final sentence at all.Lydia's lover was killed by Jeoffrey Escreet, so according to the final sentence of the story, he has to be John's grandfather. This would rule out Peter Clothier as John's father. He and John's mother Mary were only married for about a day before he was arrested and committed to the asylum, and from Mary's account there didn't seem to have been time for them to consummate the marriage. However there is always the possibility that they didn't wait until they were married and she wouldn't actually have mentioned the consummation in a letter to her son anyway. So it's possible that John's suspicions are entirely unfounded and that his father is in fact his mother's husband, Peter Clothier. In that case John is wrong about Jeoffrey Escreet being his grandfather and the final sentence of the novel is false. If JE is John's morfar, then he must be Mary's real father (which is possible because her supposed father John, had lived in JE's house since before he was married and Mary was brought up there). As JE was related to Mary's supposed father there could still have been a ressemblance between John Jr & John Sr, or it could have been that the people who made the remarks knew that JE was Mary's real father and were being catty, which would explain why Mary blushed.On the other hand, if JE is John's farfar, then John's father could either be John Sr. (my first suspicion), or Martin Fortisquence. JE invited them to live with him when they finished university, and was very fond of them both. John Sr. returned his love but Martin never did, which could possibly be because he knew or at least suspected that JE was his father and resented him for this. I think (but I could be wrong about this) that it said at some point that John Sr. and Martin looked like each other, which could only be explained if it was Martin who was JE's son, as otherwise he would not be related to John Sr. Oh bother - it's just occurred to me that maybe they are both JE's sons. Both their mothers would have known JE, so it is possible.If Martin is John's father it would explain Jemima F's hostility to Mary, which seemed too extreme to be explained by being jealous of Mary's wealth when they were children. This is another possible explanation for her catty remarks about who John took after in looks. It would explain why Martin supported Mary financially and protected her and John from their enemies, but I'm surprised that he would have left his son nothing in his will, unless that was the price he paid to placate his wife. It also fits in with Mr Advowson's information about John's baptism.The people who could have told John the truth are frankly unhelpful. John remembered that Mary had written "I could not bear to think that the father of my child had killed my Papa", but that is no help at all, since Jeoffrey Escreet, Peter Clothier & Martin Fortisquence were all in the house on the night of the murder.Jemima told John "I never believed that the murderer was your father", which is too obscure by half, as I can't tell who she thinks the father was or who she thinks the murderer was, or even whether she knows the identity of either for certain or is just guessing. However, I can't understand why John does not press her about this, as she is very possibly the only person alive who may be able to answer his questions.Tentative conclusionsI am leaning towards Jeoffrey Escreet being John's farfar and Martin Fortisquence being his father, but John misinterpreted so many clues throughout the book, that my secondary theory is that Peter Clothier is his father.Sometime very soon I am going to have to read the whole book again and look out for more clues. In such a long book (the story ends on page 1191), it's really hard to flick through and find the bits I want to check again. A loose end.What happened to Lydia's baby? Did it die as she was told, or did I miss a clue and it was adopted like JE was a generation earlier? Oh, I just thought, in the afterword it says that there are clues to suggest that the Digweeds are also related to John, so maybe there's a link there, as I didn't pick up on that at allmore
One of the most paradoxical books I have ever read, the Quincunx is a plot-driven page-turner, well-written and compulsively readable, yet dense and boring at times, more inexplicable than mysterious - more parody than pastiche. Palliser was obviously influenced by Charles Dickens, taking his main inspiration from the books Bleak House - both deal with a chancery suit and inheritance - and David Copperfield - both feature weak and foolish mothers plus sojourns in the criminal undersworld - and Quincunx is seriously unsuitable to anyone who does not like their books long and wordy and perplexingly indirect. The hero is named [initially] Huffam, but that is the only semi-normal name in the book as the writer proceeds to deliver names of increasing lenth and unlikeliness - as he explains in the afterword, he has been collecting unusual names for decades, and Mompesson, Barbellion and Fortisquince are pretty commonplace compared to some of the more outlandish surnames he uses, such as Advowson, Maliphant and Palphramond.Then there is the question of John Huffam's paternity - or John Mallamphy at he is called at this stage. I thought I was just stupid when, given the fraught wedding night enjoyed by Mary and Martin Huffam, I couldn't see any window of opportunity during which conception might have taken place. I reread the brief descriptions in the book and it still seemed unlikely. To my relief, the internet contains a vast body of work devoted to this very theme.I have always wanted to discuss this book with a friend but although I have pressed it on many people, no one has ever taken to it - for which I cannot wholey blame them: fascinating, entranching , spell-binding, even awesome Quincunx may be, but it is not particuarly enjoyable.more
This book is like a Charles Dickens novel. It starts off pretty slow. I found a review that I like: "John Huffam had a happy early childhood with his mother, but he always sensed a secret being hidden in the shadows of their lives. Eventually he learns that since his birth his mother has been hiding him from people who wish him harm. John is an potential heir to an extremely wealthy estate, a lost will and a codicil officially name John the heir, and he embarks on a quest to gain his hereditary rights. As he wanders penniless through England, enemies accost him at every turn. John learns that he cannot trust anyone, perhaps not even the beautiful, wealthy girl he has grown attached to. "By Fran Laniado, Resident Scholarmore
There's at least a star here for all the work that went into researching this. It's the kind of thing that's right in my wheelhouse--complex, self-consistent historical mystery. The kicker here is that it's self-consistent in it's inconsistency, something even harder to pull off.more
I didn't think they wrote books like this any more. I will admit to having a great deal of affection for the nineteenth century novel and this novel ranks alongside those sweeping novels written by Dickens and Eliot in its complexity and density. Wonderful.more
The Quincunx is the first book I've read this year that I haven't been able to finish, although paradoxically I would still recommend it. Palliser's quasi-Victorian potboiler is meticuously researched and technically brilliant, but I found myself unable to warm to it, and its humourless, priggish hero. I managed 931 of the 1200-odd pages, but when I realised I'd worked out the villain about a hundred pages previously - and he was my favourite character - I gave up.Nevertheless, this is absorbing and well worth a read - I may well attempt to complete it in the future.more
This book is so plot-driven that I hesitate to give much information, but suffice it to say that young John moves from the remote North countryside to London to try to discover the truth about his origins, slowly uncovering clues about an inheritance that may or may not rightfully belong to him. We travel with John all over London (and underneath it), encountering company both high and low.I was completely absorbed by this book, staying up several nights for hours past my usual bedtime in order to read just a little more. My heart raced for the last hour or so--when's the last time a book did that for me? The plotting is incredibly convoluted (at some point, I wished I had kept notes), but it all ties together beautifully. There is a wealth of period detail--apparently, Palliser spent twelve years researching--all of which weaves seamlessly into the story.Readers may be put off by the length--my hardcover copy is 788 pages of small type--but those who take it on will be amply rewarded. A highly recommended read!more
Umberto Eco meets Charles Dicken, with a little Anthony Trollope and Ian Caldwell thrown in. Not many British Victorian novels written in 1989 +/- 20 years but here it is. Deep, complex, fairly fast paced but not as accelerated as they've become since it was written. I recommend this. Small type and 700+ pages.more
a fantastic novel in the dickensian style about a struggle for nobility and with a precise and gruesom desciption of London in early 19th century.more
Simply the greatest novel written in the second half of the twentieth century. Complex plot, complex characters, and a great Dickensian romp through London and the English countryside.more
I love this book! It's a mathematical/historical mystery and so much more. It really needs reading with a notepad by your side which I intend to do on the second reading. I became so enthralled that I was reading late into the night (and early into the morning). I've just ordered The Unburied and have very high expectations.more
Bit of a sucker for a good victorian melodrama without the pages of desctiption that tend to put me off reading say Dickens. Love the fact that the author is as much achacter in the story morallsing and speculating as the players are.more
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