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Posted January 1, 2002
The Triumphant Return of the Victorian Novel
Charles Palliser is the author who brought the Victorian novel out of the drawing room with The Quincunx, a fast-paced novel of adventure and intrigue. With The Unburied, however, he takes us back into the drawing room...literally. Much of this book involves fireside conversation over sherry or port, and much of it moves at a pace that would make writers such as Dickens and George Eliot proud. At first glance, The Unburied seems to be no more than a ghost story, and it is certainly atmospheric, filled as it is with all the spookiness and gloom one usually finds only in the Gothic form of the genre. Palliser, however, deviates somewhat from a standard thriller as he leads us down first one unexpected path, then another. The book centers on the character of Dr. Edward Courtine, an academic who has come to the English town of Thurchester to visit an old acquaintance. Courtine gradually learns the details of a murder at the local cathedral more than two centuries earlier and of a ghost that some still believe to haunt the area. Courtine, however, hasn't come to Thurchester to hunt ghosts; he has come to look for a lost book about Alfred the Great. So great is his preoccupation with his search, in fact, that he overlooks what the reader can see quite clearly: all of the townsfolk are acting as if they had something to hide. It is at this point that the unexpected paths make their first appearance. Unexpected paths, red herrings, false clues, the reader really doesn't know what to make of this story. Is the centuries old murder the book's focal point or is it, instead, the murder that has just been committed? Perhaps it both. Palliser cleverly uses a recently revealed manuscript as a framing device and proceeds to tell his tale in the first-person, with Courtine as the narrator. The story is rewoven many times and readers who fail to pay attention will find themselves at a loss. The Unburied unfolds in a typically slow Victorian fashion as Courtine embarks on a personal journey, addressing old wounds and looking towards a newly bright future. There is a lot of exposition is this book, but that is all to the good and Palliser has succeeded in creating one of those dark, brooding and intensely atmospheric Victorian novels that he, himself, loves so very much. Some readers, however, may find this frustrating. The Quincunx balanced its nineteenth century setting with a sense of urgency about the plot; The Unburied takes its time as gaslights, fog, architecture and landscape come to be regarded almost as characters in their own right. By the time we near the end of this amazing book, we begin to wonder if this is a story of murders long ago or ghosts that still walk. Or is it even more? Is it an exploration of the things that can, and often do, haunt a man internally? The answer is something that each reader will have to decide for himself, for this is certainly an ambitious work. The Unburied is a book for mystery lovers and for non-mystery lovers alike. Anyone who enjoys a well-constructed novel written with meticulous care and detail will find this book time well spent.
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Posted November 19, 2008
Slow. Very slow.
After reading "The Quincunx," I was eager to read another book by Charles Palliser. When I found "The Unburied," I was excited. My excitment, though, was short lived. This book is a very slow read. The plot is slow to develop, and it never reaches its potential. About 2/3 the way through the book there were 75 pages or so that were interesting and read at a pace that made me think the book had turned around, but that was not the case. The story is pieced together in small bits, and there are numerous mysteries and subplots that don't come together like they should. Just when one subplot is developed, another is introduced, and the previous subplot is left to later in the book. That's ok for one or two subplots, but the entire book reads like this; just as the speed starts to accelerate, it slows down again. I finally put the book down with only 50 pages left; I couldn't take anymore. "The Unburied" is just the opposite of "The Quincunx": the latter is a long book that reads quickly, but this is a shorter book that reads like a much longer one.
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Posted August 5, 2002
Victoriana Is Alive Again.
Palliser has done it again, this book is up there with his previous Victorian romance, The Quincunx. The Cathedral/Cloister scenes reek of Trollope's Barchester and once again the mystery is well worthy of Wilkie Collins. Anyone like me who loves Victorian English fiction will love this one.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 17, 2009
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