The Quincunx

English language


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5 stars (2 reviews)

The Quincunx (The Inheritance of John Huffam) is the epic first novel of Charles Palliser. It takes the form of a Dickensian mystery set in early 19th century England, but Palliser has added the modern attributes of an ambiguous plot and unreliable narrators. Many of the puzzles that are apparently solved in the story have an alternative solution in the subtext.

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A huge book, described as "eccentric" on the back blurb. A postmodern pastiche of Dickensian and gothic tropes, arranged in a fractal fivefold structure if one is looking for it. At the same time, it's pretty readable linearly as a story, without knowing any literary theory. It's brilliant how everything just feels slightly off. Every Dickensian storyline is played almost perfectly straight, but we just know it isn't meant that way because of the shape of the whole assembly and underlying hints. I guess this is postmodernism. As the author afterword says, as much about the cumulative effects of decades of austerity in the UK as the ostensible setting. The characters slowly descend from one terrible housing situation to worse, and now I'm permanently afraid of the modern equivalent. Somehow very dark and scary - about poverty, social conditions, and betrayal - below the apparent adventure-novel surface. Unlike the source …

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5 stars