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The Quincunx

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  6,033 ratings  ·  572 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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Ramona I am currently reading Quincunx, and I am on the edge of my seat with the never-ending suspense and secrets. I do find that the mother is so naïve and…moreI am currently reading Quincunx, and I am on the edge of my seat with the never-ending suspense and secrets. I do find that the mother is so naïve and trusting to the point of being utterly stupid and she does need to be throttled. I am only halfway through the book and the thought of approx. 400 more pages of suspense, and twists and turns is exciting, but nerve-wracking too! So unexpected; I feel like I have to catch my breath at times. It's really a very good book and the author is unbelievable at creating such an interesting and lengthy plot(s). Hard to put down due to all that happens to this mother and her son. (less)

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 ·  6,033 ratings  ·  572 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Oct 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 22, 2012 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 pages
mark monday
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
David Katzman
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is a line about two-thirds of the way through The Quincunx that struck me as the perfect overarching summary and a central theme of the book. The narrator and main character writes, “So even here when I thought I had reached the very bottom, I found that there was nothing firm beneath my feet.” I’ll refer to this line again as I go through my evaluation of it.

The Quincunx is a compelling book published in 1989 and written by Charles Palliser that eloquently channels Charles Dickens. The wr
Jason Reeser
Jan 17, 2013 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
Vit Babenco
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What if Charles Dickens were a postmodernist writer? Would he have 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 unkem
Tracy Staton
Jan 30, 2008 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
Jonathan K
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Reading this epic story is like trudging through mud, the details and characters like a recipe for Mexican mole sauce! Tedious, I decuded its not worth the effort especially with nearly 800 pages of 9 point size text!
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Feb 26, 2011 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)
Aug 12, 2012 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
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The story begins with a young boy, named John, who lives with his mother, Mary, in an English village. They are not wealthy but they are not poor either, and so they are able to live quietly and quite comfortably. As he grows up John comes to realise that the way they live is not normal and that his mother is keeping secrets; that there must be reasons why she is so very protective of him, why he isn’t allowed to play with other children, why anyone who comes to their door is unwelcome.

When a re
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 involves murder ...more
I’m going to put this book and myself out of our collective misery and mark it as DNF. I just can’t go on! I enjoyed it up to a point but during the episodes in London, I suddenly felt overwhelmed and bored by the sheer wordiness of it. I’m well versed in what Victorian London was like and Palliser clearly researched the subject thoroughly but the laborious attention paid to the finest detail, little of it important or even relevant to the storyline, led me to no longer care what happens. It’s b ...more
Aug 23, 2009 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 08, 2011 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
Mar 03, 2010 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 07, 2010 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
Nov 14, 2008 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
Jan 23, 2009 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
Nov 25, 2012 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
.??? 90s: this is not a book i thought to like. very long, very family-epic… but then i started and could not stop. this is grown on the models of dickens and collins, this involves similar narrative elaboration, this uses beautiful irony and tragic misunderstanding. of dickens’ work, i think of this as great expectations. but, i do not know for certain: is this a post-modern? certainly it is too fun, too densely plotted, too self aware or self reflective, to be purely a modernist project. do no ...more
Sep 28, 2008 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
Jan 24, 2008 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 11, 2012 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
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am done. Five stars. Long and windy, knotted up family histories, inheritances, betrayals, greed and power, estate law and wills, so much London, and mostly the nasty bits you don't often read about. It's not perfect, most of the characters make you want to throttle them in some way, but intricately researched and planned, spirals upon webs of inter-connected plots and people that was so satisfying to see come together. I read nearly 1000 pages in a month so it tells me something. Like Bleak H ...more
Laurie Neighbors
Aug 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
M.M. Bennetts
Nov 12, 2010 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
Aug 28, 2008 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 17, 2008 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.
May 21, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
My first read from this author and I had high hopes for this book. I loved the length, the topic and the time period. I ended up sorely disappointed.

The author, obviously, is a fan of Dickens. The language and "feel" of the book definitely spoke that clearly. However, after the 27th time that John got abducted/beat up/wronged/double-crossed, I gave up (and there were at least another 30 times it happened after that!). I get the down and despair. I get that it was a struggle for him to make his w
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The ending 1 26 Dec 12, 2015 09:36AM  
Reading the Chunk...: 05/04 The Quincunx, Chapters 116- The End 16 46 May 31, 2015 02:01PM  
Reading the Chunk...: 04/27 The Quincunx, Chapters 101-117 10 27 May 19, 2015 02:34PM  
Reading the Chunk...: 04/20 The Quincunx, Chapters 95-100 11 25 May 19, 2015 01:07PM  
Reading the Chunk...: 04/13 The Quincunx, Chapters 86-94 12 23 May 17, 2015 07:54AM  
Reading the Chunk...: 04/06 The Quincunx, Chapters 76-85 13 26 May 15, 2015 08:11PM  
Reading the Chunk...: 03/30 The Quincunx, Chapters 63-75 25 38 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

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