The Confusion

I have just (last night) finished reading Neal Stephenson’s The Confusion, the second novel (of 3) in ‘The Baroque Cycle’. It follows right where Quicksilver, the fist book, leaves off and keeps up a fairly torride pace throughout most of it, despite the passing of several years within its pages.

If you liked the first book, I suspect you’ll really enjoy the second, as it is much in the same mode. Yes, it is a large (nearly 900 pages) book, but it never read like a large book to me. With only one or two exceptions, every section was a real page-turner.

The book is actually 2 volumes, interspersed roughly evenly throughout, one telling the ongoing adventures of Jack Shaftoe, the other detailing the adventures of Eliza. Their lives, despite being separated by continents, continue to intertwine, and the pacing between the two volumes is well-matched. I would advise anyone reading to keep track of the dates listed at each chapter-head, if only to have an idea of how what one person has done is about to affect the other.

The most fascinating aspect of this book, for me, was living vicariously through the transition from true-value money (that is, coin that is ‘worth’ what is in minted with) to more modern currency, which doesn’t have any inherent value except for the promise of value that it holds. This transition, which we simply take for granted, was truly revolutionary, and had catastrophic effects across Europe. During the course of the tale, both England and France essentially run out of money as the commodity markets grapple with and transition to this trade-base economy, away from a resource-based economy (where one’s worth is directly attributable to one’s own physical resources). Stephenson’s descriptions of how the various characters come to grips with this is excellent, allowing him to show all sides — those who get it and like it, those who get it and don’t, those who simply don’t get it, and those who simply likely to suffer because of it (along with other permutations of the same).

If you like historical fiction, or if you’re a Pynchon fan (as there’s definitely some Pynchon-esque elements to Stephenson’s writings, only I personally find vastly more approachable), I highly recommend this book. Of note, Cryptonomicon, his 2000 novel features characters that are probably descendants of those featured in the Baroque Cycle. Given that Cryptonomicon was supposed to be part of a larger series, expect these books to tie into each other sometime in the future. It is in itself, definitely worthy of a read. For that matter, read everything by Stephenson. It’s all good.