Due out in November, Palliser’s new book Rustication should appeal to all his many fans and to book reading groups looking for a meaty book to chew over. Although Palliser first published Quincunx in 1989, it was such a success, selling literally millions of copies worldwide, that he was free to decide to live by the pen ever since. Would you believe I thought he was Scottish because he was teaching in Glasgow but it turns out he moved to the UK when he was only three and he is now 65! Here’s what Wikipedia says about Quincunx.
The Quincunx (The Inheritance of John Huffam) is the epic first novel of Charles Palliser. It takes the form of a Dickensian mystery set in early 19th century England, but Palliser has added the modern attributes of an ambiguous ending and unreliable narrators. Many of the puzzles that are apparently solved in the story have an alternative solution in the subtext.
His second novel, The Sensationalist, which came out in 1991, appealed rather less which may have been its subject matter rather than its literary style. However, it did rather stand in the long shadow cast by The Quincunx. I say it is well worth reading. Then, in 1993, he brought out Betrayals, which is another brilliant story constructed with the attention to detail of a Swiss watch. Here’s the first paragraph of the blurb on Amazon.
At once a hypnotic murder mystery, scathing literary parody, soap opera, and brilliant pastiche, Betrayals is an astonishing virtuoso performance by a modern master of literary gamesmanship in the tradition of Vladimir Nabokov and John Barth. The novel unfolds in a series of seemingly unrelated narratives, each written in a different style — indeed, in a different genre. There is an obituary for a Scottish scientist and Nobel Prize winner, written by a colleague who clearly relishes his death. Early in the century, a train in the Scottish Highlands heads down the wrong track during a winter snowstorm, and the passengers are forced to abandon the train, resulting in the death — or is it murder? — of one of them. An inane publisher’s reader summarizes the plot of a tacky hospital romance novel, which ends in a gory murder all too reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. Even a report on a contemporary academic controversy explodes into a scandal of plagiarism, shattered reputations, paranoia, and suicide — or is it murder made to look as such?
Then Palliser wrote The Unburied: published in 1999, six years later, it is another provocative murder mystery. Some critics said that Palliser had very effectively unburied Wilkie Collins and, indeed, the book would have been a credit to that master-craftsman.
Advice to book reading groups: Plan Ahead!
We have had to wait a suspense-filled fourteen years for the latest Palliser novel. Since book groups have to plan their reading programmes well in advance, I urge them to put Rustication on order now and get together in the New Year to discuss it.