Wednesday 7 November 2012

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser

I am hoping to write a very short review of this very long book.  I wrote a post about Social Reading about a month ago. When I enthusiastically volunteered myself for this endeavour, it is fair to say, I wasn't entirely certain what I was getting myself into.  And I most certainly didn't know that the book was 1200 pages long (give or take a few pages).
Reading a book this long at a pace set by others didn't really work for me.  Although, if I hadn't committed to reading it as part of Social Reading, I honestly would have never finished it.  I'm not entirely sure that would have been a bad thing.  As it is, I have spent an awful lot of time reading a book I didn't thoroughly enjoy.
I have clearly been guilty of what Mr Palliser refers to in his Afterword as under reading.  I was quickly overwhelmed by about who was who given everyone's multiple identities, and who did what, given that there were hundreds of plausible culprits of hundreds of different crimes, not to mention the hundreds of characters.  I tried to keep track in a notebook but after 500 or so pages couldn't be bothered any longer.  I was so far behind in my reading than everyone else I abandoned this and just let it wash over me.
Despite the fact that Mr Palliser seems really rather pleased just a bit too much with his own cleverness and his readers dim wittedness, I did rather enjoy the place and time.  The evocation of the smells of the poverty stricken areas of London were so wonderful, I could feel my stomach turning.The novels trolls through every occupation and class of society of Victorian London and provides intricate details of all the sights and sounds.  
I was relieved to learn that the author had edited vast portions of his original draft to make the book "more readable".  I can't imagine how I would have lifted this book to read it if he hadn't.
The trouble with that level of detail was that plot suffered and to a certain extent so did the characters.  In my mind's eye, I have no clear vision of what anybody looked like although I certainly can picture where they were in exquisite detail.
Disappointingly, I felt that, other than a few loyal tweeters and visitor's to Scott's blog, I was largely alone.  When I remarked on parts of the book or had questions, particularly on Twitter, it didn't seem like there was much of a community reading along with me.  Although those who have kept in touch seem as relieved as I am that it is over.
The finished book looks beaten and battered having travelled with me up to Scotland and back.  I am pleased to say that I have finished it but will not be recommending it to anyone else.  It just simply didn't move me.  I am hoping it will make its last journey with me to the Firestation bookswap.
Now for something a bit lighter.  My brain needs a rest.


Alex in Leeds said...

I'd do another of Scott's shared reads as it has been lovely to see occasional twitter updates and check in with comments on his posts but I think this was a much more subdued event than he was expecting - the length of the book wouldn't have been too bad but the tone was hard to stick with. Did get to 'meet' some more lovely bloggers though so I'm still very glad I took the book down off the shelf. :)

Anonymous said...

It was a bit of a slog, wasn't it? We have done two social reading experiments before now and most of the banter took place on the blog rather than Twitter, really. Twitter was a place where a few of us checked in but lots of the readers aren't on there so the blog is a more natural home, and there was certainly more going on there every day.

I think it is good (sort of) to try this sort of thing on a book that frustrates as much as it entertains just as long as it doesn't happen every time!