Lempriere's Dictionary - Lawrence Norfolk

One of the back cover quotes uses the word "extravaganza" to describe this novel, and that's apt, to describe its ambitious conception, its set-piece scenes, and the tour-de-force paragraphs that go off like fireworks in its exuberant prose. It's a novel that belongs to the genre of... what? Historical, fantasy, supernatural? I'd call it a story of the occult. As if its gradual revelation of a centuries-long conspiracy wasn't enough, the author almost hits us over the head with metaphors of underground passages, currents under the surface of the water, atmospheric stirrings that add up to some grand design that few can see... It preceded the recent wide popularity of books that posit that grand historical events are guided by the hands of a few, and is certainly an unusually intelligent contribution to that literature. Most of its supernatural elements are muted, even ambiguous, posed in quasi-technological rather than outright magical terms, yet not "natural" for all that (a good example of the in-between status of the concept "occult" in fantasy terms). It's also self-aware and anachronistic, with seventeenth- and eighteenth- century characters who think in a decidedly twentieth-century way. I'm not sure why Norfolk chose to pre-date his existential unease and history-haunted, hollow-foundationed city life by several centuries before their time. At any rate, it makes for a compelling and entertaining reading experience.