The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox

The Absolute Book is a complex and sprawling fantasy novel of a very unusual sort. And it’s all the better for being so.

To try to even describe the plot would be foolhardy, but it starts in a contemporary world, mostly in the UK, but with excursions to Canada and New Zealand, and tells the story of Taryn. Her life has not been simple – her sister, we learn in the first few pages – died at the hands of a driver who deliberately hit her. Her family left their grand old house, and now her father stars in a fantasy series that is filmed in New Zealand (“Peter” [Jackson?] gets referenced at a certain point).

While on holiday with her husband in Canada, where he was doing outdoors-y kinds of things, she meets The Muleskinner who becomes somewhat enraptured with her, and offers to murder her sister’s killer once he’s released from prison back in the UK.

Then there’s the policeman, Berger, who suspects that Taryn may be implicated, as well as a mysterious guy we first meet in the woods, carrying a pile of books barefoot.

All the while Taryn herself has become a successful author and is touring book festivals promoting her book that tells the stories of libraries and fires therein. Just don’t ask her about the Nazis and bookburning.

To some extent The Absolute Book draws on – and explicitly namechecks – authors like MR James, HP Lovecraft and Robert Chambers, while dodging away from the likes The Da Vinci Code and The Shadow of the Wind. Although it’s not mentioned, I thought Foucault’s Pendulum might have been an inspiration too.

But I haven’t really even got into the fantasy element of the novel, where the novel veers away from many of those themes. The sections that take place ‘the Sidh’ are key – and extensive. With elements of faerie lore, Celtic mythology, Old Norse mythology and much more besides, it’s a unique perspective on the world. Although all is not quite as it seems there either.

The obvious comparisons probably need to be made with Neil Gaiman’s work, and especially American Gods, although this goes off at completely different tangents to that. I couldn’t help thinking of Good Omens too as I read this book. But there is definitely also a flavour of Ursula Le Guin here too.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book – taking you way out of the present, yet being firmly rooted here too.

The Absolute Book is out now in hardback. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC, although I did subsequently buy my own copy!