The Absolute Book, by Elizabeth Knox, is one of the critical darlings of the moment. I was drawn in by descriptions of strange books and mysterious journeys. When they go well, stories that blend fantasy details with literary aesthetics can be wonderful. The trick, I think, is knowing how much to borrow from each genre and knowing when to strike out into original territory. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk. And I’m afraid that The Absolute Book missed the mark for me.
Taryn Cornick has a sad but privileged life. On the one hand, her father is a wildly wealthy actor and her grandfather owned a mansion. On the other, her sister was murdered, her mother died of cancer, and Taryn just can’t seem to find her way out of her personal darkness. At her worst moment, Taryn reveals her story and the fact that the man who killed her sister is getting out of prison after a shockingly short sentence to someone known only as the Muleskinner. The next thing she knows, the Muleskinner follows her back to England and suddenly her sister’s murderer is found, face down in a puddle in a back alley. Then, the next thing we know, there are demons and sidhe in the world and Taryn is being whisked between the worlds in the hands of a man (creature?) who can do incredible things.
Confused? I was. Normally, when I say that a book’s plot keeps doing unexpected things I mean it as a compliment. I like books that break genre conventions to do something new or plots that I can’t figure out too far in advance. The thing about the unexpected is that it all has to make sense, in the end. At the end of The Absolute Book, I couldn’t say that I understood what this story was trying to be. There were parts that I liked; Knox does some interesting things with prophecy and sacrifice. On the other hand, there was some upsetting violence, at least one too many plot threads, and what I saw as some missed opportunities with several characters.
Just like I said in yesterday’s post, I feel like I need to go back to the reviews to see what I’m missing about The Absolute Book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.