The Quincunx by Charles Palliser.
Paperback: 800 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 1991)
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.
So, I got this book because I had read two other books by Palliser and enjoyed them. Then, if I remember right, my friend Carl, at Stainless Steel Droppings, told me about this book. "Since you like Gothic Mystery...".. he did not mention it was 800 pages long... in small print!!!! So I won't say how long it took me to read this but here it is almost the end of a 31 day month and including this book I've only read 3 books for the month!
So, (yes I know I repeat myself).. I get the book months ago.. flipped thru it and put it away thinking that the print is way to small I will never read this. I have no idea why I thought I'd give it a go, but I did.. and I liked it very much! (you are off the hook Carl lol) I will also admit I had to look up the definition of Quincunx..(an arrangement of five objects with four at the corners of a square or rectangle and the fifth at its center, used for the five on dice or playing cards, and in planting trees).. it always helps to know what you are reading about!
The story begins with a young child named John. Basically, it's his life up to a certain age. When he asks questions to his mother she keeps telling him she can't tell him at his young age, that he would not understand. So mysteries begin to build. Lots of "Family secrets". Some murders along the way. Some insanity?? ...and the child gets older. But I began to think he was really me! I mean, if this kid didn't have hugely bad luck, he'd have no luck at all!!
The are a number of families involved in this very twisted Charles Dickens type book. Admittedly, at times I was confused as to who was related to who and how? duh. But I surged on and strangely the more confused I got the more I sorta knew what was happening. heh.
The writing of this book is outstanding. Though compared, in style and content, to Dickens it's a little lighter and easier to read then Dickens, and I would have gotten thru it even quicker if the type set wasn't so small!
Anyway... it was a good read.. and I sorta miss the characters now!