Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"It must have been late autumn of that year, and probably it was towards dusk for the sake of being less conspicuous."

One of the first books I read this year was The Quincunx by Charles Palliser. It was published in 1989 and is almost 800 pages long. It is set in 19th century England -- a period I read about quite frequently. I had seen this book a few times over the years at my local Barnes and Noble on the shelf for books recommended by store employees. The book has no synopsis on the back so it took me a few years to decide to read it.

I think if it did have a synopsis it would be simply this "the story of a boy who becomes a man - in a field of rakes". You know this image from cartoons -- the unfortunate character steps one direction onto a rake that snaps up and nails him in the face and when he turns to go another direction, another rake is there to hit him in the nose again. This book was 787 pages of agony. And yet --- I would read it again. I know, what am I thinking, right? But the book was thoroughly engaging and though you knew the worst would happen -- because it kept happening -- you hoped in each situation that this would be the time that it worked out for young John Huffam. But sadly, there would be 400 pages left with no story and so it continued through the whole book.

The Quincunx, by the way, is the five-pieced symbol on the cover of the book. It represents the five families that are players in the story.

Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone with a lot of patience for misery, an interest in the less-fortunates of 19th century London or the desire to completely escape into another era for a week or two as this book is quite a long read.

Until next time,

Postscript: The title of the post is the first line of the book ... i think i will do that in each post so that you can see if it catches your fancy.

Buy The Quincunx on Amazon or find it at your local library.


  1. I saw this on your 2008 Wrap Up post. It's been sitting on my shelf for years and, after reading your review, I thought maybe I didn't care about reading it. Then I got to the part when you said you would reread it. Now it's back in the 'someday, maybe' category.

  2. You definitely need to be in the right frame of mind for this book. It takes a lot of will to get through it and it's not a lightweight happy read. It is, however, a good book. Figure that one out!