Like many other authors, Neal Stephenson was suggested to me, by my very good friend who refuses to be named. For all practical purposes, let us call him John. But for the record, John had suggested the book – Cryptonomicon, and not Quick silver. So one day, as am browsing through the book store in Bangalore airport (looking for a book to read over the flight), I stumbled upon this book. I was in the mood to try out a new author and Quicksilver is a historical drama (to those who don’t know, I have a weakness for period dramas….subject to conditions), so I picked it up.
Quicksilver is a part of a series of books which comprise “the Baroque Cycle”. The plot is set in around 1700s and spans Europe and the Americas. One thing that people should remember is that the hardback edition of the Cycle, is broken down to three books, first of which is Quicksilver. The paper-back version further breaks down the Cycle to eight paper-back editions, first of which is Quicksilver (the one I read) and is the first part of the hard-back Quicksilver. Confused? To put it more simply, I had read the first paper back book of the eight book ‘The Baroque Cycle’ series.
Quicksilver is primarily about Daniel Waterhouse, who is a natural philosopher, and the story is mostly told in the form of him reminiscing about his past. I pretty much fell in love with the book after I had read into the first chapter. Stephenson introduces tonnes of characters, some of them fictional and a lot of historical characters. I have never seen so many characters introduced into a story, and used so well. I have read books and drafts by authors when they have written stories based on an older age, and many times it has been so that something or the other – like speech, as a notable example – feels rather anachronistic. Stephenson, on the other hand, has been able to get over all that and (like one of the Greats) is at home describing a daily scene of Restoration-era England. The book is well paced and constantly hops around between Daniel’s past and present. But the coup-de-grace in the books is the author’s writing style. I loved the way the author used dark humour and witticism to paint a colourful picture of an age of uncertainty, political intrigues and a bit of Enlightenment thrown in. That and Stephenson’s habit of changing his narration style by occassionally shifting to Drama style, I actually liked it. And then the characters. The way Stephenson builds his characters, I loved them much like Rushdie’s “Enchantress of Florence”.
Truly, Quicksilver is one of the best books that I have read. I am desparately looking to lay my hands on the remaining seven books, so if you have them by any chance, do tell me!
In my opinion, Neal Stephenson would be the most underrated author of my generation. I was so completely blown over by the book, that I wondered how it was that I had never heard of Stephenson earlier. Unlike my other reviews, I will not grade ‘Quicksilver’.
All Hail Neal Stephenson !!