The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox – 2019

The_Absolute_BookTaryn Cornick is a lover of libraries, a valuer of ‘just in case knowledge’, and an observer: “She was always studying the world, not rapt or curious, but patient and dutiful, as if the world was something she’d paid good money to see.” Taryn meets a man with whom she enters into an agreement – to avenge the death of her sister, Beatrice.  And Taryn’s world will never be the same again.

Taryn ends up going on a quest to find a scroll which is a key to a language capable of commanding nature.  The absolute book is a wonderful journey into other worlds, a journey that has the reader drawing parallels and lessons from these other dimensions to try and understand our own world better – and better understand how things are going so horribly wrong.  At the heart of the journey is Taryn’s love of libraries as repositories of knowledge: our heritages and stories that hold the promise of global rebalance.  Taryn has written a best-selling book on the subject: The feverish libraries, about the threats to libraries “from silverfish to austerity measures.”

The worlds Taryn visits are gloriously described; the seemingly idyllic Sidh – a bucolic paradise with no biting insects, the bland repetitive purgatory with its occasional communal construct that may offer release – a hospital, a railway line.  Taryn’s quest is one she has no faith in or control over; she is possessed at times; she is constantly finding out new layers of more disturbing information – what keeps her going much of the time is her hope that she may once again see Beatrice.  The Dante reference sits alongside myriad references from literature, creation stories and mythology – Knox is as loving of literature and heritage as Taryn.

Taryn’s companions are as revelatory as their environments: Jacob, a young policeman who is suspicious of Taryn and ends up embroiled in, and bewitched by, her quest; Neve the beautiful but cold Sidhe; and Neve’s nephew Shift “even less human than his inhuman aunt” – he is hard to focus on, a shapeshifter, the Little God of the Marshlands, and he is one of the most intriguing of the characters in The absolute book.  Humans, demons, gods, demigods, angels, all populate the novel – emphasising the message of the dangers of forgetting or ignoring our various heritages or judging each other not by who we are but what we are.

There is humour in The absolute book, much of it from the juxtaposition of worlds: Taryn travelling through the Sidh and worried she will be late for a speaking engagement; her arriving through a ‘gate’ to a message welcoming her to British Telecom.  But the themes of the book are deadly serious – the colonising of others’ land, environmental degradation, the deals made that have enduring consequences, beings like the Sidhe, who know they are doing wrong but “their habit of living meant they just kept on living with it.”  The absolute book is conditionally optimistic: There is hope if we can remember that “… today doesn’t always know what tomorrow will need”; if we can remember, and make decisions, knowing “none of this is about us”.  Taryn doesn’t escape her punishment but there is a tantalising description of where she may go at the end of the book …

As I was reading The absolute book, I was beginning to think we were living in purgatory where it “wasn’t forever living with your mistakes; it was forever defending your decisions.”  It is an insightful book and resonates on so many levels.  I am a quick reader, but it took me a long time to read this book, as there is so much in it – I am sure I have missed a lot, so I will read it again.  I recommend you read it too.




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1 Response to The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox – 2019

  1. Pingback: 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards longlist | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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