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Going For Baroque (Pt. II)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Part I

The Baroque Cycle — Vol II: The Confusion

Neal Stephenson

I actually finished this one a couple of months ago, but didn’t write about it at the time for various reasons.  But I have now just started reading Vol. III, The System of the World, which has got me all excited about this series again, and there’s no way I can contain my inner Culturatti-ness any longer.  Ergo this long overdue post.

This volume is definitely the meat and potatoes of the series.  You want plot?  This is where you get it.  As I mentioned in Part I, Quicksilver is almost all set-up and introduction: to the characters, to the world of the time etc.  There’s really no actual ‘story’ at all; this is fine since what Stephenson does give us is so well-written and interesting we happily follow along.  But it’s in The Confusion that we finally have all the disparate pieces flung together, and, I have to say, I was not at all expecting what came out of it.  The central, core plot device is both so simple for an expert on that time period to use, and yet so clever (to use it in the way he does) that it really provides for an enthralling yarn.

Another thing I really like about this volume is how we are taken out of Europe — way out of Europe (although I won’t spoil it by saying where exactly).  Too many English-language historical novels are set in either England or the U.S, or, if they take place elsewhere, they are isolated in that place (think Clavell or Michener); it’s rare that you read fiction that incorporates so many different areas of the world into the main story.  And where we do go in The Confusion, I had never read about before in this time period, so it was quite educational and interesting.

And, finally, what could be said about the ending:

” . . . the game has begun, and may the best man win!”

Once you know whom the two men in question are, you can’t help but be breathlessly anticipatory for Vol. III.  But then Vol III. begins eleven years after that immortal challenge.


All the more reason to end this now and get back to it.

Part III

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