2004-05-20 · in Books · 435 words

Lemprière felt the thick cable of muscle ripple up his back and curl in a whiplash that cracked in the base of his brain. A tiny orange glow turned yellow then incandescent white, growing until the soundless explosion of white light filled everything then faded and fell back and he was flying through the earth, his body denser and harder than the surrounding stone and rocks which he pulverised as he drove with irresistible force deeper beneath the surface. He could neither see, nor taste nor hear nor smell, only feel as tilting beds of limestone split and shattered in his wake. He felt broad curves and undulating swathes above and below as he shrugged off deflections from the synclines and anticlines of the sloping stone and punched through the throws and hades of its faultplanes. [...]

Last time it took me a month to get through a book, it was one that I'd very much enjoyed ("The Man On A Donkey"). With this book, it's just because it's monstrously unpleasant to read. The extract above, which continues in the same way for another two pages, is typical of about a third of the book: huge run-on sentences, long strings of dubious metaphors, opaque jargon thrown in for no contextual reason, and a general feeling that the reader's working much harder for the little meaning that's actually there than it was worth in the first place.

The book's very much like Neal Stephenson's "Quicksilver" in concept, although it long predates it: set in the early 19th century (with flashbacks to the 17th), we follow the adventures of John Lemprière as he attempts to unravel the mystery that occupied his father for most of his life. It's a vast, complex loosely-historical conspiracy. The author's style is even somewhat similar to Stephenson's, but he's neither as funny nor as stylish. Where Stephenson can get away with throwing in completely bizarre characters and situations, Norfolk just manages to interrupt the flow of the story when doing so.

There are a few interesting characters (Captain Guardian and Sir John, for example), but none that really get developed enough for us to care about them. This book's also a pretty good candidate for the "bad fictional science" category; not only do most of the scientific ideas included make no sense, the author doesn't even try to explain why they might. Finally, the paperback edition I read had large numbers of typographical errors.

I can't recommend this book, and I'm not particularly likely to check out other work by the same author.