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Quincunx [Paperback]

Charles Palliser
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 27 1990
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."

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Product Description

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From 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.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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It must have been late autumn of that year, and probably it was towards dusk for the sake of being less conspicuous. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Tiggah
With a huge, colourful cast of characters, The Quincunx by British author Charles Palliser is, like Edward Rutherfurd's London, the kind of book that comes along all too rarely--a book wherein one loses all sense of the present as one is transported back through history to another time and place. This is a novel that is at once a family saga, an adventure, and a mystery with plenty of twists and surprises. With it, Palliser has proven himself to be a master storyteller, and it has been a long time since I have enjoyed a book as much as this. In fact, I'm not sure it didn't surpass London--another historical of epic proportions that I highly recommend--as my favourite novel by a contemporary author. (I ought to mention I've yet to read Eco's The Name of the Rose).
At 781 pages, however, this historical masterpiece set in early nineteenth-century England is not for the faint of heart. At stake is a legacy--title to a huge estate of land. Though the story literally takes place during the span of several years, it is a tale about an extended family (and their relationships with one another) whose beginnings take us back five generations. Bit by bit the family history is revealed--and it is a history rife with intrigue, double dealings, scandal, and even murder. What makes the revelation of the family history so exciting and so important is its relevance to the novel's present, for not only is the identity of our young protagonist and narrator, Johnnie Mellamphy, at issue, but his very survival hangs delicately in the balance.
Those for whom this engrossing, unputdownable novel will be a special treat are those who enjoy solving word or logic puzzles (I am a puzzle buff myself).
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5.0 out of 5 stars There's a reward in the end July 5 2004
Charles Palliser has created an amazing book in "The Quincunx", a huge novel that could have been written 150 years before. "The Quincunx" is a Victorian book, but easier to read, more cynic, more sarcastic and even somberer. It's almost impossible to go through its 1200 paperback pages without a notebook specifically set aside by the reader to write down scattered information, genealogies, twists, new characters and locations, and I would advise future readers to do just that.
The main plot (the book has dozens of inter-related plots) is about John Mellamphy, a young boy living with his mother and a couple of nurses and maids in the early 19th century in rural England. Young Master John doesn't know it yet , but his family's past history is extremely strange and complicated. When the past begins to catch up with John and his unfortunate mother, they will experience extreme poverty, desillusion, weakness. In the Victorian London, gray, crowded, violent (masterfully described by Palliser) they will descend to the lower conditions a human life can possibly bear, dragging with them many other characters as they appear in the story, and not all of them will be able to reach the surface again.
Many aspects of the book are really interesting. For example, unusual names like Phumphred, Mallyphant and Steplight help to create the necessary grimy atmosphere adequate to a victorian novel. And what is best, Palliser treats his reader in an intelligent way: he chekced and re-cheked his plots, found inconsistencies, corrected them. Palliser doesn't reveal everything in his lines. Many things he's left the reader to discover for himself, and some other things have no solution.
Is "The Quincunx" an easy read? Far from that. But those who will be able to reach its ending will be rewarded with an unforgettable story.
Grade 9.3/10
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Triathlon Read!! Whew!! Feb. 25 2004
After reading Charles Palliser's "Quincunx" I felt as if I had participated in a triathlon. This is not a book for those with short attention spans or for those who lack patience. Although I usually like epic novels, if the plot is interesting and varied and the characters well developed, I found this novel very difficult to get through. The book has been hyped as "Dickensian" but the only similarities to the work of Charles Dickens' lie in its length, 781 densely printed pages, its setting, Victorian England, and many of its characters who are the poor and disenfranchised. The quality of writing, storyline and character development are not at all comparable to that of the great novelist.
Young John Huffam, our hero, and his mother have been hiding from their enemies from the time of his birth. John is heir to vast lands and a title, which seemingly every character in the book lays claim to. There is a lost will and a secret codicil that officially proclaim John the rightful heir to enormous wealth. The entire novel is based on his search for his identity and for his hereditary rights. Parallel to this purpose are the many attempts to thwart him, usually by greedy family members he has no knowledge of. They either want John dead, or alive and in their power. For the duration of the novel John barely escapes from one near-death experience after another. In spite of his obvious intelligence and precocity, he is totally blind to all clues about his true history and dilemma. He naively trusts everyone, even after numerous betrayals. He bumbles from one mishap to another, with apparently half of London's population following him and wishing him ill.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Like "The Jungle" or the Book of Job
This book mostly concerns how poor and abused a boy and his mom can become. Everytime you think they've hit bottom, it gets worse. Read more
Published on March 29 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars great atmosphere and detail, lousy characters and plot
While the author has obviously done a great deal of research and painstakingly recreated an interesting historical period, ultimately one is uninterested in the characters and... Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2004 by audrey
5.0 out of 5 stars Charles Dickens without the over-sentimentality
Money has always brought out the worst in people. Add in contested property ownership, a purloined will, include many acquisitive close and distant relatives and you have the... Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2004 by IRA Ross
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Detail!!
I must say I greatly enjoyed this book. All the plots and subplots come together wonderfully in the end, and it's an absolute must read for anyone that enjoys a good (great! Read more
Published on Nov. 13 2003 by Hanni
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly lackluster and 2-dimensional
Reading Palliser's first epic, 'The Quincunx', is a bit like fishing - it requires a great deal of patience (and a good memory wouldn't hurt either). Read more
Published on May 16 2003 by book yeti
3.0 out of 5 stars Test your memory skills
What could be better than pleasurable reading that also provides stimulation for your memory skills? Read more
Published on Nov. 13 2002 by Matthew Krichman
5.0 out of 5 stars The new Dickens? Humbug!
Charles Palliser has been called the new Charles Dickens ad nauseum, tho superficially that may seem apt. Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2002 by garsky
5.0 out of 5 stars A mystery within a mystery ....
This book may seem intimidating, clocking in at over 750 pages, but the story is sufficiently gripping to keep your nose firmly in place until the very end. Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2002 by Jessica Hammer
3.0 out of 5 stars 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. Read more
Published on Aug. 15 2002 by Smudge
2.0 out of 5 stars Palliser had a wonderful publicist
Overrated completely. Too many unfortunate things I can say about this disappointing book, but I will sum it up by saying that reading this book was like watching an unnecessarily... Read more
Published on Aug. 12 2002 by Dina
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