This week’s Biblioshelf Musings is for The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox. I would like to thank NetGalley and the publishers, Penguin Michael Joseph UK, for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.
After reading The Absolute Book, I found myself struggling to verbalise my reflections of reading it. Sometimes my head was brimming with thoughts, other times there was a void as if I had forgotten the last 600 pages of story which had just unfolded in front of me. This is more an indication of my headspace at the time I was reading the book as opposed to a true representation of the kind of novel The Absolute Book is. I’ve tried to work around this and make this apparent through my following review so apologies if what comes after this is a little stilted!
Book: The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox
Genre: General Fiction / Fantasy / Mystery
Publication Date: 18th March 2021
Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
Taryn Cornick barely remembers the family library. Since her sister was murdered, she’s forgotten so much.
Now it’s all coming back. The fire. The thief. The scroll box. People are asking questions about the library. Questions that might relate to her sister’s murder.
And something called The Absolute Book.
A book in which secrets are written – and which everyone believes only she can find. They insist Taryn be the hunter. But she knows the truth.
She is the hunted . . .
The Absolute Book is a tale of sisters, ancient blood, a forgotten library, murder, revenge and a book that might just have the answer to everything.
I found The Absolute Book to be a pleasantly challenging read. The blend of magical realism mingling with portals to fantastical worlds, hitchhiking demons and a dazzlingly curious box named ‘The Firestarter’ gave me a lot to get my head around.
The main characters had enigmatic secrets leading my brain to try and stretch to reach for what was actually unfolding between the lines. Each part of the story was full of gradual reveals; things happened which I only fully understood afterwards when other characters discussed and explained the events to each other.
Taryn’s ongoing suffering surrounding the death of her sister and the repercussions which follow, prove to be a key driving force behind the actions and events within the novel. This provided a mysterious whodunnit feel adding suspense and intrigue to the plot.
The shiftiness of Shift (puns aplenty!) created a conundrum of unreliability which was brilliantly perplexing for the characters as well as the readers who were trying to keep up with them.
An interweaving of fairytale and folklore from different mythologies generates a multidimensional world complementing the complexities of the storyline incredibly well. From the Celtic Sidhe faerieland, the presence of shapeshifters and Norse talking birds, to the alluded references to Merlin, portal gates on ley lines and influences from the most notable of the ‘stories-about-stories’ genre, this book is jampacked with an epic range of fantasy motifs and themes to command your attention.
Tolkein-esque expositions pepper the narrative appealing to those of us who enjoy our world-building on the lavishly rich side. The homage to libraries and guardianship of books and memories speaks out to our bookish afflictions.
From Heaven to Hell and all of the human or faerie purgatories in-between, The Absolute Book is entirely deserving of its high acclaim from professional reviewers and critics.
When I read this book at the end of March, I was trying to fit to a NetGalley deadline. Global pandemic aside, there was a lot of background noise which stymied me from giving it the attention it deserved. It also made this review quite difficult to write. In that respect, I feel like I let The Absolute Book down.
Netting in at over 600 pages, this is not your light-hearted beach read or just something to provide a meaningless distraction amidst everyday life. The Absolute Book is a tale which deserves an almost essay-like dissection to reveal its multitude of wonders and the exquisite depth and breadth of its writing. It’s exactly the type of book that warrants a reread – it’s earned that. I feel I need to give this novel another chance to discover all of the hidden gems and fantasy Easter eggs which have been lovingly crafted into its pages.
I found Nina Hall’s review from The Guardian a wonderfully fitting analysis of just how much The Absolute Book has to offer readers. Her piece is the main incentive for me adding this book to my reread list. You can check out her review here.
Why Should I Read This?
For the loving ode to stories and libraries which forms a central part of the storyline.
For the amazing mix of fairytale, folklore and mythology all merged and mingled together.
For the challenge – it’s an adult fantasy offering a thrilling complexity unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
Elizabeth Knox: Why I Wrote The Absolute Book – This post, by the author herself, reveals some helpful insights as to the motivations behind different plot elements, as well as a beneficial hint at some of the influences she used to craft her world and characters.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Knox is an award-winning New Zealand author who has published over a dozen books. Her novel The Vintner’s Luck won the Deutz Medal for fiction in the 1999 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and the 2001 Tasmania Pacific Region Prize, while Daylight was shortlisted for Best Book in the South Pacific & South East Asian Region of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Elizabeth has an ONZM, is an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate and won the Prime Minister’s Award of Fiction in 2019. She teaches World Building at Victoria University and lives in Wellington, New Zealand, with her husband and her son.
(Taken from Penguin Michael Joseph January – June 2021 Publishing Catalogue)