Wednesday, March 15, 2017


The Quincunx by Charles Palliser. 1990. 787 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: It must have been late autumn of that year, and probably it was towards dusk for the sake of being less conspicuous. And yet a meeting between two professional gentlemen representing the chief branches of the law should surely not need to be concealed.

Premise/plot: For readers who have read every Dickens novel a couple of times apiece, Charles Palliser's The Quincunx may hold great appeal. It is historical fiction set in Victorian England. The hero is a young boy--who becomes a young man by the time this CHUNKSTER is finished--who may or may not be heir to a very large estate. The estate is in the hands of a chancery suit. There's a codicil to a will that may change things to his benefit. Also a second will--a later will--that would do away with the codicil, but still leave him the heir. Regardless, he seems to be entitled to the estate. But there are people--adults with a lot of money and to some degree power--that would do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to keep him from coming forward and being proclaimed heir. These evil agents have dozens if not hundreds of minions working against the poor boy. So much so that anytime John talked to anyone--family friend, complete stranger--you wouldn't be amiss to cry out: DON'T DO IT. DON'T TRUST THAT PERSON. By the end of the book, you can easily see why total depravity of the human race makes sense.

My thoughts: I wanted to enjoy this one. I did. And to a certain degree, I did. I enjoyed meeting some of the characters. (My favorite may have been Johnny and his great-aunt Lydia.) I think this one is realistically bleak. Most of the characters we meet are living in poverty or extreme poverty. Justice is hard to come by. You could have a strong work ethic and be willing to do anything and everything that doesn't violate your conscience, and still end up bad. There is no getting ahead or beating the system. The wealthy are depicted--for the most part--as selfish, proud, corrupt, eager to take every advantage of the poor and weak. One or two even have murder on their minds--a lot! Though you don't have to be rich to be corrupt! The character of Bellringer proves that sure enough.

Throughout the novel, there is a slight hint that a romance might blossom between Johnny and Henrietta when they're grown. But Henrietta seems to be going the way of Miss Havisham as the novel concludes. I thought that after 750 pages of misery and danger, there'd be a more traditional happy ending. I wasn't strongly attached to Henrietta. But I don't think any woman deserves madness as an epilogue.

What strikes me most about this one is SADNESS and MISERY and MADNESS. If you find the book of Ecclesiastes too short, then this one might also be just right for you.   

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Joy Weese Moll said...

Thanks for this -- I think I'd rather re-read Bleak House.