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The Quincunx

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,807 Ratings  ·  443 Reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 787 pages
Published November 27th 1990 by Ballantine Books (first published 1989)
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The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn PeakeThe Quincunx by Charles PalliserLady Susan by Jane AustenThe Stolen Child by Keith DonohueEnglish Passengers by Matthew Kneale
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2nd out of 1,429 books — 2,345 voters
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Best Historical Mystery
114th out of 1,308 books — 3,371 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul Bryant
If every other novel was like this it would be terrible. I'd never leave the house. I'd call my office : "sorry, can't make it today, I have 450 pages to finish, I'm sure you'll understand, put it down as a family emergency" and eventually they'd email me - "you're fired" - but I wouldn't read the email. My cat would have to become feral. Empires might tumble, Bob Dylan might be chosen as the next Pope, I wouldn't notice.

Anyway, fortunately, most novels aren't either this good or this long, so w
Nov 15, 2012 Shovelmonkey1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like a book with girth
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: goodreaders
Cor blimey guv'nor that was a long old read. Weightier than a bag of coal and with more pages than her majesty's coronation. I view my current love of this sort of Victorian era homage with the highest amusement for, despite having recently read and enjoyed The Crimson Petal and the White and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and now The Quincunx, I am yet to read the books which these so lovingly ape. Not a dash of Dickens or a jot of James has passed my eyeballs.

And frankly, after over 1000 pa
mark monday
Aug 03, 2011 mark monday rated it really liked it
a mysterious and elaborate narrative done in the classic Dickens style. stays true to the form, particularly in its almost monomaniacal obsession with money and property. the extensive research is obvious and helps to make the era vivid and completely real. characterizations were surprisingly flat for such an immense tome... and unfortunately, that includes not only the intriguing supporting cast but the primary characters of son and mother. i also have to say that i was let down by the curiousl ...more
Tiffany Reisz
Mar 17, 2015 Tiffany Reisz rated it it was amazing
Five stars for the book for being immersive and awesome. Five star for me for reading an 800 page book. We're both winners here. Or losers depending on your perspective.

Also - I'm going to read only very short books from now on. Pamphlets. Can you rate pamphlets on Goodreads?
Jason Reeser
Aug 21, 2013 Jason Reeser rated it it was amazing
When I was a kid, I fell in love with these great big, old, aromatic tomes called "classics". J.F. Cooper was an early favorite. And of course, Charles Dickens was not far behind. I had no friends whatsoever who seemed to be able to enjoy sitting down with a slow, fascinating read like "Barnaby Rudge" or "David Copperfield" or "The Last of the Mohicans". But that didn't stop me from reading more and more books like them.

Fast-forward to my early twenties. I was at a bookstore, and found this beau
Tracy Staton
Jan 30, 2008 Tracy Staton rated it really liked it
At first I thought this was an imitation of a Victorian novel, then a complete recreation of every Victorian novel, and finally I decided it was a parody of and commentary on the Victorian novel. It had every Victorian trope imaginable: the lost inheritance, the fatherless hero, the consumptive beauty, the abandoned manor, the mysterious break-in, the lost birth certificate, the evil money-hungry miser, the intolerable boys' school, the nightmarish insane asylum, the missing will, the charming c ...more
Ian Vinogradus
Apr 07, 2011 Ian Vinogradus marked it as to-read
Shelves: reviews
A tatty old copy of this book arrived in the mail today (April 8, 2011).
It has particular significance to me, because I first read about it in a newspaper review of another book ("if you like The Quincunx, you will like" this other book).
I had never heard of this unusual word or the book, and promptly googled it.
I found Paul Bryant's GR review of it, and thus began a lifelong obsession with GR (and Paul Bryant).
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jan 01, 2014 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: realtors, estate lawyers, conspiracy theorists, ethicists
Take Dickens, multiply the filth, poverty and desperation by five; multiply the cast of characters by five; multiply the number of plot twists, betrayals, double-triple-quadruple-and-quintuple-crosses by five; and multiply the multiple identities by five.

Add a speculative real estate scheme, a couple of phony front companies, a banking and credit crisis, a raft of lawyers, lenders, borrowers, beggars and stealers; and then run the whole thing through a sieve of the major moral, political, socia
Nov 28, 2012 Mosca rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Nineteenth century enthusiasts

This book of course sets out to recreate a traditional nineteenth century novel. The language, the plot curves, the characters, the settings, these elements all work admirably towards that end. If you are transported by historically accurate nineteenth century details; if you love very, very complex mysteries; if intrigues and the Gordian knots of family genealogies lure you; if the you are charmed by the reconstruction of pre-Victorian plot
Apr 25, 2010 Allison rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: few
I had very high hopes for this novel--the author is obviously highly imaginative and has great potential talent (atmosphere is arguably the main character in this novel, and he has obviously spent much time and energy devoted to researching his subject)--however, this first novel, overall, I found hideously disappointing. Whether it is read as a parody or recreation of classic Victorian novels, it is just severely lacking in some essential areas.
The plot, while sufficiently twisted and compli
Dec 09, 2012 Jonfaith rated it liked it
From the time of its release, my friends and I were all fascinated by Oliver Stone's film JFK. We'd watch it together and discuss such for hours, debating the motives and agency each suspect would have. This continued for many years and I'd wager if circumstances allowed such, we'd all still gather and view the film again. Most of us were never drawn to the literature surrounding the assassination, by which I mean the myriad accounts and theorists who created an additional universe of sinister p ...more
This is one of my favorite books ever! I read it a few years ago, then loaned it to a friend who returned it - I forgot she even had it! - so after hearing her rave about it, I decided I had to re-read it, & I loved it even more the 2nd time! If you like Dickens & other Victorian novels, you'll love it. It's a novel that takes you completely out of yourself & into early 1800s England. It's the story of young John, who may (or may not) be the lost heir to a great estate. His story inv ...more
Jan 09, 2009 Eric_W rated it it was amazing
The quincunx is an arrangement of five items in a square based on a cross that was used for several five-domed Byzantine churches. It's also a terribly important design in a novel of five parts by Charles Palliser that is absolutely riveting. Set in England during the early nineteenth century, it is narrated by a child whose age we are never told, even as he grows older. His name changes also as he realizes he has been hidden to protect his life, for he is the direct descendant of a wealthy land ...more
Mar 24, 2010 Bruce rated it it was amazing
This monumental and brilliantly written novel takes place in England during the 19th century and involves an estate and multiple families over several generations, the relationship between these families being unclear at the beginning. In fact, much is mysterious, including the real name and lineage of the young boy who seems to be the protagonist, John “Mellamphy.” A few of the chapters are told in the third person by someone I was never able to identify, but most are told by John in the first ...more
Apr 08, 2011 Martin rated it did not like it
please, please don't waste your time, this is over 1000 pages of tripe.! The Author tries to be too clever, claiming this is an attempt to "play with the conventions of a victorian novel". He appears to be an English Lit professor and is a great example of why University academics sometimes need a good kicking!
The story is boring, the characters neither believable or interesting, Dickens did it first and did it better, why the hell Pallister bothered is beyond me. What is particularly irritating
Oct 25, 2008 Eliza rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Eliza by: Ned and Peter
Holy Cow what a page turner, and it better freaken be at 700 something pages!!! I may have made a big mistake reading this now that school is back in session, I may not finish it till schools out. All that aside its really good. It feels like a really good Dickens with lots of crazy characters and twists and turns. Love it!!!

Now that I've finished it I'm a bit bummed with the ending. But then again how very Dickens. He seemed to have some trouble wrapping up his endings as well. Ah the same I st
Apr 16, 2010 Laurie rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Nearly 800 pages of a cross between Dickens-on-an-off-day and the "Series of Unfortunate Events" for adults. I suspended my disbelief for far too long, and what did I receive at the end? No clear answer to the ultimate question of the protagonist's parentage, and a bleaker-than-bleak worldview which isn't even logical. The lengths the author went to in letting us know that there was no pattern or higher meaning to the "hero"'s struggles and suffering was in itself far too fraught with coincidenc ...more
Mar 03, 2008 Ceci rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all who enjoy historical novels, Dickens' works and mysteries
This is a masterful novel, both a parody and a celebration of a Dickensian novel. It's set in Victorian London and teems with mysteries, strange enemies, colourful characters, great inheritance... It's an unputdownable, giant of a novel of great complexity and intelligence. It's one of those rare books you wish to read all over again once you've finished it -- despite its great lenght.
Kate Sherrod
Dec 31, 2012 Kate Sherrod rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I suppose we could regard Charles Palliser's Quincunx as final proof that for every genre or great genre master of fiction, however obscure or archaic, there is not only someone who will attempt a pastiche of it/him, but sometimes there is even one who is very, very good at it. Charles Palliser is one of these, an otaku's otaku in the realm of... the nineteenth century social novel?

I didn't know there could be such a thing. Did you?

For Quincunx* is a Dickensian pastiche of the very highest order
Vit Babenco
Jun 12, 2014 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing
What if Charles Dickens were a postmodern writer? Would he has been capable to write The Quincunx? The stylization is perfect.
"Loomed at us from the shadows like a theatrical show: the drawn faces of the very poor, the laughing faces of those in funds or already drunk, but always, in one form or another, misery and fear and shame and desperation, whether clothed in rags or in tawdry finery, and everywhere a profligacy of children — children of all ages, children in tatters, dirty, with unkempt h
This was a looooonnnnng book and while I read it with great interest all the way through, I was pretty disappointed in the ending. A young english boy, eventually man, goes through all these horrendous experiences because he is the secret heir to a fortune and numerous other people (who all benefit from his NOT becoming the heir)want to kill him. There is a very intricate puzzle he needs to solve, and many relationships he has to untangle, before he can reach his goal. He is subjected to a litan ...more
M.M. Bennetts
Nov 12, 2010 M.M. Bennetts rated it it was amazing
This review was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor.

Think, if you will, of an earlier age in the chronicles of English literature–an age when authors such as Dickens, Thackeray and Trollope flourished. Remember a period in which verbosity was no crime and a novel was needed to fill the long spare hours of autumn evenings. Recall that time when themes were veiled in multiple layers of plot and characters, that era in which an author might freely discourse with his reader.

It is t
Jūtos kā maza uzvarētāja, jo "Kvinkonss" bija pirmā grāmata, ko es pirms pieciem gadiem Goodreads atzīmēju kā "to-read", bet visu laiku apjoma dēļ tā tika nobīdīta uz vēlāku laiku (kas izrādās tomēr pienāca atrāk kā pensija).
Milzīgs stāsts par 19. gadsimta Angliju, lasīt brīžiem bija sarežgīti, jo prātā jāpatur gan mantošanas tiesības, ko maina dažādi testamenti, gan plašs ģenealoģiskais koks, kam nemitīgi plaukst jauni zari, bet tas bija tiešām aizraujoši. Autors gan vairāk norāda uz Dikensa ie
Dec 23, 2010 Julia rated it it was amazing
WOW, talk about mystery! This book was full of twists and turns. I couldn't put it down. It was definitely a little confusing determining the family lineage at times, and I got confused with how inter-connected every character was in the novel. But it was a joy to read. It follows the life of a young London boy, and all the travesties, mostly, for there was little joy in his life, that he miraculously overcame either by his own wits or the help of people he knew little of. It starts with his hap ...more
Feb 17, 2008 Don rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Dickens fans
This novel is one of my all-time favorites which I've never successfully turned anyone on to. Though it starts slow, it becomes an entirely new novel once the main characters move to London. A really well-crafted Dickensian novel that partially incorporates the life of Dickens himself. There's a lot of depth here of which I'm sure I've only scratched the surface.
Laurie Neighbors
I read this book a gazillion years ago and loved it. You might not. Do you like Dickens? Because I think that would be a minimum requirement for liking this book. So, if characters like Pip and Mrs. Haversham break you out in a rash, don't read this book. Rashes are gross.
Oct 06, 2008 Anika rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 27, 2007 bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this was a densely charactered story set in victorian London. The Main protagonist is a young boy trying to recover his rightful inheritance, which was stolen from him.This leads him from the countryside to the London underworld, where just surviving from day to day is difficult, but he is also being sought by those who would loose if he can claim his birthright, and would prefer him dead. The plot is fast paced and convoluted, loads of twists, hard to put down. I read this awhile ago, so detai ...more
Dec 17, 2015 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Palliser's massively ambitious -- and just plain massive! -- homage to Dickens and Collins has been sitting on my shelf for some years; I've been wanting to read the novel ever since meeting Palliser sometime in the '90s in London, but I let myself become intimidated by the length. Now, of course, I wish I'd had the gumption to tackle it long ago, because in the event I romped merrily through its 900+ pages -- to the point that I've often taken longer to read novels one-third the length of this ...more
Tracey Chorley
Aug 05, 2007 Tracey Chorley rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of Dickens
Shelves: classics
I LOVED this book, was totally hooked on it from the very first page. The intricacies of the connections between people were fantastic, easy to hold onto but do deep. A brilliant read, one of the best books I've ever let chose me in a library, I will be buying this to keep and read again.
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The ending 1 12 Dec 12, 2015 09:36AM  
Reading the Chunk...: 05/04 The Quincunx, Chapters 116- The End 16 33 May 31, 2015 02:01PM  
Reading the Chunk...: 04/27 The Quincunx, Chapters 101-117 10 20 May 19, 2015 02:34PM  
Reading the Chunk...: 04/20 The Quincunx, Chapters 95-100 11 19 May 19, 2015 01:07PM  
Reading the Chunk...: 04/13 The Quincunx, Chapters 86-94 12 16 May 17, 2015 07:54AM  
Reading the Chunk...: 04/06 The Quincunx, Chapters 76-85 13 21 May 15, 2015 08:11PM  
Reading the Chunk...: 03/30 The Quincunx, Chapters 63-75 25 27 May 08, 2015 09:47AM  
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Charles Palliser (born 1947) is an American-born, British-based novelist. He is the elder brother of the late author and freelance journalist Marcus Palliser.
Born in New England he is an American citizen but has lived in the United Kingdom since the age of three. He went up to Oxford in 1967 to read English Language and Literature and took a First in June 1970. He was awarded the B. Litt. in 1975
More about Charles Palliser...

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