I read about Charles Palliser on this website, but The Unburied, which is the book she actually reviewed, wasn’t at the library. So I got this instead. It is full of London, so I thought that would be a point in its favor. I think of London almost every day, because I miss it so much and I want to go back. And also it is gorgeous and perfect.
London’s lovely perfection is not so much in evidence in The Quincunx. The protagonist, John Huffam, spends a lot of time being really unhappy in (Victorian) London, due to the seedier elements there, which he encounters a lot of as he finds himself in dire circumstances. This book is all about John and his struggles to get at his birthright – he is sort of the heir to a fortune, but it’s a complicated legal matter, and a number of different parties are involved in trying to get the inheritance for themselves. As you might well imagine. I would explain how all this works, but it is so complex and confusing and involves so many people and confusing Victorian legalities, that I won’t try. Suffice it to say that there are numerous interested parties, and it seems that John runs into them wherever he goes. To his detriment.
In a way this is cool. I like books where everything is connected. It’s tidy. Everything comes together in an interesting way. The farther I got into the book, the more difficult I found to stop reading it, which is the reverse of what has been generally happening lately. I find it pleasing in books or movies or TV shows where seemingly disparate elements turn out to be linked. When I was a kid I was always trying to write stories that had two totally separate storylines and then the two came together. That was before I realized that this is very aggravating unless you are much cleverer than a twelve-year-old (or however old I was), and even when you are much cleverer than a twelve-year-old, it is still really annoying. But I digress. That isn’t what Charles Palliser is doing. I don’t even know why I brought it up.
This was a much interestinger book than I was expecting, and it kept my attention all through it, even though it is insanely long. You were constantly having to reevaluate what you thought you understood about everyone, and that was cool to read. I stayed up much later than I was intending to stay up on numerous occasions. But my displeasure with books continues. It has been enough of a pattern by this time that I think the problem is not the books. The problem is me. Even when the books have flaws that are not extreme and have obviously not prevented me from reading with interest, I have hardly anything nice to say about them. So here are the unnice things I have to say about The Quincunx.
I thought it bogged down in spots. Sometimes it seemed like they were just wandering around London collecting clues, a bit like the middle bits of the seventh Harry Potter book where Ron and Harry and Hermione are doing the hiding out thing and going to different places to find out different things before moving on to the next. It got repetitive: Hey, we are hopeless and miserable, let’s look up this old friend of ours. Hey, they are hopeless and miserable too, let’s stay with them. Okay, they’re tapped, let’s go back and find that other old friend that didn’t help us before, they’ll probably help us now! I don’t mean to be callous, but I am not the hugest Dickens fan, and the relentless lower-class-Victorian misery got tedious. (My dissatisfaction about this is possibly down to the fact that when I read a book that someone has said “Victorian” about, I am thinking of Oscar Wilde and his crowd; and this was drastically not that.) And as well, it sometimes got to the point where it just felt like a barrage of names. My tired brain had a hard time keeping track.
Also, the title sounds dirty. I’m so immature!
Well, now I’m taking a break from all this to read some books recommended to me by people I know. They are not people with whom I always share taste in books, but I’m very fond of them both, so on I go. A Canticle for Liebowitz and Excellent Women.