Saturday 23 November 2019


The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox       {Reviewed by STELLA}
There are many adjectives one could use to describe The Absolute Book. Compelling, compulsive, confusing, considered, crafty and crafted, sublime, beautiful, tragic, awesome (in all the senses of that word), clever, theatrical, hysterical and hilarious, complex, lucid, layered and rich. And these are just some of the words worth attaching to this very, very good novel. It is an immense book — 650 pages of fascination and revelation. Taryn Cornick’s sister Beatrice has been killed — murder or accident? There is no question in Taryn’s mind. Seven years on, she thinks she has moved on but a chance meeting with a hunter, the Muleskinner, who is beguiled by her and her sadness, leads to a chain of unimaginable events that will open gateways to other worlds, states of mind, story-telling and soul-searching. Cornick’s book about libraries and fires has garnered some notice, and she is due on the tour circuit when a police officer, Jacob Berger, starts getting interested in a cold case — the death of Tim Webber, the driver of the car that ran her sister down. Berger suspects foul play and starts to dig. His connection with Taryn will reveal a lot more than he bargained for. Jump back to Taryn and Bea’s childhood visits to their grandparents’ estate, Princess Gate, and a strange encounter with a young scholar, Battle, who is obsessed with finding a book known as the Firestarter. The girls playing in the library witness from behind the curtains Battle’s attempt to start a fire to reveal the mysterious object, and so begins the first glimpse of our encounters with demons, enchantments and story-telling. The Absolute Book moves seamlessly from reality to fantasy. Unlike many books that move between worlds, there is no obvious change in writing style or tone — you are just there — through the gate in the other world with nothing to jar your reading, pushed along by the action. There is much going on at all times on many levels! Knox makes the world within, beside or outside, parallel (whichever it is) believable by taking us with her characters. We are curious and fearless despite demons, the sometimes cold appraisal of the Sidhe, the changes in the landscape, the power and mystery of Shift. In previous Knox books, we have encountered mythical and magical creatures and The Absolute Book is no exception. Blending Norse mythology (the ravens play a mighty role), faerie folklore, popular culture and ancient ritual, history and religion (yes, there are angels), this book has a plethora of layers, which should sink it into a pit of confusion, but it doesn’t — it soars. The brilliance is in the craft — in the language and pace — and in the absolute beauty of the description of the lands and all that live on them (whether on Earth or in the Sidh). It’s a book with a fascinating story — you will want to read on and be taken by Taryn, Jacob and Shift to the places they (and we) must go. It’s story-telling at its best and Elizabeth Knox at her best... so far.   

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