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The Quincunx Paperback – November 27, 1990

4.1 out of 5 stars 176 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345371135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345371133
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (176 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
I first read Charles Palliser's Quincunx more than ten years ago and I vividly remember being so wrapped up in the world he created that I would spend every spare moment of the day reading, perhaps only a couple of paragraphs at a time. As it was such a big book, it was my constant companion for a couple of months.

The obvious comparison of this book is to the classic Dickens masterpieces, and the similarities abound; a young boy at the center of a story that spans the world of Victorian London, shady characters, hard times ....many of the classic Dickens elements are there. While the readers of 1800's had a comtemporary understanding of the world of which Dickens wrote, we in the 21st century sometimes have a difficult time grasping all the subtleties and nuances in his texts. Palliser, being a modern scholar of the period, takes the time to help us through some of the aspects of Victorian England with which we may not be all that familiar. For example, right at the beginning of the book before the story even begins, there is a breakdown of Victorian English currency. I found this very helpful, as I really didn't know the difference between a ha-penny and a sixpence, or a pound and a quid. Also included in this book are some wonderful maps of London as it was at the time of the narrative. I've spent many pleasant hours exploring these maps; not only finding various locations within this book, but ferreting out locations that have been mentioned in several novels of the period by authors like Conan Doyle and Anne Perry.

After more than a decade and countless other books, many of the fine points and details of this story have escaped me, yet the feeling of the book, the sense of realism and authenticity have continued to linger.
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Format: Paperback
Just how do you account for the outrageous audacity of a first-time novelist who seems to have set himself two awesome tasks:

1) To create a plot so intricate in design, so mind-boggling in its complexity, so inventive in its incidents, so breathtaking in its ramifications, that it would have been impossible if it hadn't actually come to have been written.

2)To recreate 19th century England in all its Dickensian sprawl and largeness, to imagine that bustling cacophony in all its glitter, dazzle, filth, sordidness and cruelty, and to do so with great aplomp so that the act of reading becomes a truly immersive experiance.

That Palliser even attempted this story at all is incredible. That he has managed to pull it off is miraculous.

The story follows a boy and his mother as they run for their lives trying to evade people who are out to get an important will. It follows the fortunes of five branches of the Huffam family, all out to inherit the vast Huffam estate. The boy and his mother are hounded at every corner of London by cut-throat criminals, shady lawyers, cunning relatives and the like. They are reduced to begging in the streets.

As the storyline and the subplots swirl into dazzling arabesques of seeming impossibility, the reader gasps at the continual surprises, the jolting twists and the disorienting turns. Palliser is unrelenting in the miseries he hurls at his protagonists, and unremitting in the shocks he delivers to the reader.The novel is truly impossible to put down. I first read it in 1994 and re-read it recently. It is just as amazing the second time round. The story enfolds your waking hours and you free-fall vertiginously into a dreamworld that is entire and complete.
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