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Quincunx

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Overview

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 ...

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Quincunx

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Overview

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

After garnering spectacular reviews, attracting unprecedented publicity and enjoying excellent sales, The Quincunx makes its debut in trade paperback. Set in the early 1800s, Palliser's first novel is a Dickensian journey through a young man's life as he searches for his identity. Eventually he will fall into an ancient mystery, a shocking scandal, a passionate love, and a mysterious murder that holds the answer to his existence.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The epic length of this first novel--nearly 800 densely typeset pages--should not put off readers, for its immediacy is equal to its heft. Palliser, an English professor in Scotland, where this strange yet magnetic work was first published, has modeled his extravagantly plotted narrative on 19th-century forms--Dickens's Bleak House is its most obvious antecedent--but its graceful writing and unerring sense of timing revivifies a kind of novel once avidly read and surely now to be again in demand. The protagonist, a young man naive enough to be blind to all clues about his own hidden history and to the fact that his very existence is troubling to all manner of evildoers narrates a story of uncommon beauty which not only brings readers face-to-face with dozens of piquantly drawn characters at all levels of 19th-century English society but re-creates with precision the tempestuous weather and gnarly landscape that has been a motif of the English novel since Wuthering Heights . The suspension of disbelief happens easily, as the reader is led through twisted family trees and plot lines. The quincunx of the title is a heraldic figure of five parts that appears at crucial points within the text the number five recurs throughout the novel, which itself is divided into five parts, one for each of the family galaxies whose orbits the narrator is pulled into. Quintuple the length of the ordinary novel, this extraordinary tour de force also has five times the ordinary allotment of adventure, action and aplomb. Literary Guild dual main selection. Feb.
Library Journal
First novelist Palliser combines an eye for social detail and vivid descriptions of the dark side of 19th-century London with a gift for intricate plotting and sinister character development reminiscent of 19th-century novels. He weaves a complicated tale of a codacil containing a crucial entail, the possible existence of a second will, and a multiplicity of characters--all mysteriously related--seeking to establish their claims to a vast and ancient estate. Related by a young boy who often appears too worldly for his sheltered upbringing and wise beyond his years, the story occasionally bogs down in innuendo and detail which become tedious rather than suspenseful. Nevertheless, overall, this is a gripping novel. Highly recommended. Literary Guild dual main selection. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/89.-- Cynthia Johnson Whealler, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345371133
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1990
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 800
  • Sales rank: 285,389
  • Product dimensions: 6.16 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.69 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2002

    Good writing but a swamp of misery

    This hefty volume is a real page-turner--I was glued to it for about 4 days--as well as being an extraordinary tour de force. The plot is an intricate and far-flung labyrinth with unexpected twists at every turn. If you like to savor puzzles, this is a great one. It's patterned on a Victorian novel, and its scrupulously accurate descriptions of the wretched underside of Victorian society are extraordinarily vivid. Like a Dickens novel, it's populated with striking characters from all walks of life, especially the underclass. And the writing is very good. But there was one aspect that put a damper on my enjoyment and stood out as a striking anachronism for a book aspiring to Victorian novelhood. The chapters have the kind of bouncy, chirpy period titles like those I remember from the cheerful books of my youth like Little Women and they led me to expect a certain Victorian-style heartiness in the tone of the story. However, except for the first section, the rest of the novel is a story of sheer unrelieved misery, evil, and hopelessness. The author seems to have bent over backwards to systematically demolish every prospect of help or escape and eradicate any possibility of lasting happiness or hope, no matter how small. Even Dickens' grimmest novels offer comic relief, and they usually offer a ray of hope or a chance of happiness at the end for some decent character or other as well. Victorian writers lived in an optimistic era, and in the books I'm familiar with, glimmers of that optimism are generally evident in their work. (Villette is a striking exception, for those who like gloom.) It's not that I prefer saccharin endings, but in my view, the relentless blackness of the Quincunx's worldview reflects more of the sardonic mindset of a'90's novelist than it does a Victorian one. Whether this is supposed to make it more 'realistic' to match the taste of contemporary readers, I don't know, but I don't think that's necessarily achieved by taking the opposite extreme in an effort to flee conventional happy endings. In any event, the novel's inexorable woefulness wore me down after a while. In the end, it left me feeling unusually depressed and also a little like I'd been had. I thought I was reading a novel that was supposed to be faithful to the spirit as well as the form of a 19th century novel, but at the end I discovered that it was actually a bit of turn-of-the-millenium nihilism tricked out in elaborate Victorian duds.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2006

    A Masterpiece of Literary Fiction

    This is perhaps one of the 10 best books I have ever read. It is an epic read but well worth the time you need to devote to it. There are many twists and turns, plots and counterplots that will keep you guessing and hanging on until the very end.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2002

    Wilkie Collins Lives On.

    With more than a passing nod to Dickens and Collins, Palliser has written a fabulous pastiche of the Victorian Mystery Novel, pioneered by the above. Add to that all the degredation of 19th Century London, tricksters, prostitutes, body snatchers et al, this book has everything.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2003

    Adolescent Fogginess

    One other theme of this book: the hero of the tale is a young boy whose adventures we trace until late teenhood (although his exact age is never made explicit). He is driven nearly mad by the quirks of fate, the conspiracies, the puzzles of the lost will and codicil, the elaborate family history, on and on. Even though I'm now 50, I resonated with his puzzlement and perplexity. My teen years (1960s!) were pretty confusing and I seemed to be in a perpetual fog. If you are a confused teen, or want to understand the bewilderment of life that some teens experience, this book will help. It inspired me in my role as a mental health counselor to have greater empathy for the perils of life in the teenage zone. I read mostly non-fiction, so to finish this 700+ page novel speaks to Palliser's great skill and incredible research of early 1800s London. One last note: family therapists frequently compile what are called "genograms" of the family tree, a visual map of who is related to whom and who had conflicts with whom, and so forth. I'm tempted to reread this novel and compile a genogram for John (the young boy/teen). Charles Palliser, if you're listening: Has one been done before? Your rough draft of plot lines, relationships, and characters must have taken up several walls (or gigabytes). Great job!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2000

    Completely compelling

    I devoured this richly detailed book, relishing the tale as well as it's brilliance of execution! It was a pleasure to be so thoroughly engaged by an imagination as rich as the author's, to temporarily occupy a world fully fleshed out with great care and research, as well as emotional complexity and depth. I highly recommend The Quincunx!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2003

    widely-encompassing, causes wheels to turn in your moral and compassionate core.

    I found myself becoming thickly involved with all aspects of this novel: the well-drawn characters; the historical richness; the social and moral implications; the harrowing dive into the ugliest of human hearts as well as a fair share of human compassion, forgiveness, and unbreakable will.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2003

    an astonishing book

    I have just finished the Quincunx an hour ago, and I am still under the influence of its majestic writing. The story starts really slow like someone already mentioned, but after like 400 pages the story just goes faster never to settle down again. when in the first half you kept on reading by the intruige the writer makes. and in the second half of the book it gets you by the throat and it won't let you rest until you have finished reading. its truly wonderful how Palliser manages to describe all parts of the 19th century society, this book has so many details it is a historical document and it makes you think of the luck we have today. My overall impression is that this book is worth putting some time in because the experience you get in return is to remember for the rest of your life I just want to add that I read the Dutch version so I do believe the translater did jus job very good

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2003

    Big read

    A daunting book to begin and required patience for the first 200 pages but well worth the time and effort. Unimaginable twists and turns. Excellent read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2001

    Impressive but difficult

    Overall this is an admirable work. The depth of historical detail is impressive and the writing is masterful. However, while the twists and turns of the plot keep you reading, the relationships of the characters, which are essential to the plot, are very difficult to keep straight even with the addition of the family tree charts that have been included. The other difficulty with the book is that the misery and cruelty described feels all too real and after the first part of the story there is very little relief from it for at least the next 400 pages.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2001

    Spellbinding and Absolutely Fabulous!

    Could not put this down - page after page of conspiracy. So well written that I would put Charles Palliser up there with Umberto Eco. This book catapulted to the number three spot in my list of all-time-favorites. #1 - A Prayer for Owen Meany #2 - Pillars of the Earth #3 - The Quincunx.

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    Posted July 12, 2009

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    Posted November 24, 2010

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    Posted June 7, 2010

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    Posted October 27, 2008

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    Posted April 4, 2014

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    Posted September 20, 2009

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