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The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
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The Confusion (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Neal Stephenson

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5,19260861 (4.2)43
Member:divinenanny
Title:The Confusion
Authors:Neal Stephenson (Author)
Info:Arrow (2005), London, Paperback, 815p.
Collections:Your library, eBooks, Read, Read 2012, Favorites, Buy and Get 2010, Readable
Rating:*****
Tags:historical fiction, history, france, uk, netherlands, paris, london, 1600s, fiction, locus

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The Confusion by Neal Stephenson (2004)

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Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
As the Author’s Note informs the reader, The Confusion is really two novels, merged (or, in a pun this novel rather over-uses, con-fused) into one by interlacing their chapters, Bonanza and Juncto, with respectively Jack and Eliza as main characters (Daniel remains somewhat in the background for this volume). Events begin some time (years for Jack, months for Eliza) after we left them in Quicksilver, and that proves to be something of a problem – after enjoying the previous novel more than I had been expecting to, I almost gave up on The Confusion because of the incredibly clunky way Stephenson catches up on what happened in the time that has passed.

Stephenson is often praised as master of the infodump, but what we get here are a series of extremely clumsy dialogues that would have been cause of much eye-rolling even in a debut novel, but coming from someone who already has several novels under his belt and has shown that he can do better this is extremely annoying. He even has to give Jack amnesia for the sole purpose so that someone can narrate his own history back to him, which everything considered might be even worse than the infamous “As you know, Bob” variety of infodumping because it is such an obvious and at the same time so very weak attempt to avoid it that it smacks of desperation.

Fortunately, the novel eventually gets caught up and rolling, and things take a marked turn for the better compared to Quicksilver. Admittedly, the “Juncto” (Eliza) part of The Confusion still gets bogged down in the swamp of pointless details Stepenson drives the (often somewhat meagre) plot through as well as his continued attempts to be Deep and Meaningful; but then there are the chapters with Bob Shaftoe (Jack’s brother) as protagonist who somewhat make up for that by presenting a rousing tale of love and vengeance in the context of English warfare at the period.

And there is “Bonanza”, the other part / novel making up The Confusion which again has Jack Shaftoe as protagonist and which is even better than “King of Vagabonds,” the second part of Quicksilver. Jack travels not only in Europe this time, but gets to visit exotic places like India, the Americas and even Japan in a series of increasingly outrageously adventures, making and losing his fortunes several times over, acquiring the gold of Solomon and being chased for it by dastardly foes. He remains the lovable rogue throughout, and Stephenson thankfully does not skimp on the rogue part – Jack does not have many scruples in the pursuit of this goals, and is not someone even the most kindly inclined reader would enjoy spending time with. But he certainly is a lot of fun to read about, and more than once this particular reader wished Neal Stephenson had just written a neo-Picaresque novel with Jack as hero and dispensed with all the stuff about Science, Finances and Enlightenment – whose only real function is to give the author room to brag about the huge amount of mostly useless information he has accumulated – and focussed on travels, roguery and swashbuckling. I know, I know – I’m sounding like a complete philistine here, but it’s such a waste and a pity to see what could have been a splendid adventure novel buried under so much extraneous dross. Still, there is less dross here than in Quicksilver, so maybe there still is hope for Neal Stephenson, and the best volume of the Baroque Cycle is still to come.
1 vote Larou | Jul 21, 2015 |
Jane Austen had two principal themes: Love and Money. This the second volume of "The Baroque Cycle", has them as well. We continue the picaresque career of Jack Shaftoe, as he exhibits his love for the Eliza of his dreams, literally around the world, by pursuing and carrying Alchemy's greatest gift. Ironically, this volume covers the period in which the discipline of Alchemy dies, replaced by modern chemistry and the birth of the modern representational alchemy, high finance.
The other picara is the Eliza herself, as she floats through Europe, hounded by men of obvious intent, but varying technique. Actually having children, but only one by a romantic attachment. As this is a middle volume, she remains imperilled at its conclusion.
Neal Stephenson continues to draw for us all a portrait of the most important age of the history of our planet, and to put warts and sweat on the faces of many famous names, who gain in humanity what they now lose in false auras.
Sadly, there's only another volume to go, but I'm still up for it. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jul 7, 2015 |
@confusion +quicksilver
Neal Stephenson never stops amazing me, this book tied together in interesting ways and expanded the semi-historical look at parts of the world besides just europe. It will definitely warrant a re-read (as do all of Stephenson's books) and, even across the weeks it took to read it, I never wanted it to stop. I'm looking forward to reading the next con-fusion of this series but cannot believe it is going to end with just 3 more con-fused parts ( )
  Lorem | May 31, 2015 |
This was even better than Quicksilver. The story never bogged down. This was the first book I read on my Nook, and I flew through it in 3 weeks (Quicksilver took me 4 months). ( )
  grandpahobo | Mar 23, 2015 |
The Confusion is Volume II of the author’s Baroque Cycle. Volume I contains the first three “books” of the cycle, while The Confusion contains Book 4 (Juncto) and Book 5 (Bonanza). These two books were originally published separately, but when combined in this volume, the “chapters” are alternated so as to maintain chronological order. That is because the two books deal with two completely separate story lines.

Juncto is set in northern Europe and features Eliza, Duchess of Arcachon and Qwhglm, and Daniel Waterhouse. Bonanza follows the adventures of Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe from his days as a galley slave along the Barbary Coast through Egypt, the Indian sub-continent (Hindoostan), the Far East, New Spain (Mexico) and ultimately back to England.

If you read Volume I, Quicksilver, or the three books that were encompassed therein, then you are familiar with the characters and the historical landscape (late 17th, early 18th century). While the historical fiction contained in these works is highly educational and at times fascinating (at others, somewhat confusing), this is not my favorite Stephenson effort. Nevertheless, as in his cyberpunk and sci-fi stories, a certain level of attention and effort is required in order fully grasp the author’s work. Some may not want to put forth the effort, but I appreciate it. ( )
  santhony | Nov 24, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aquan, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kellgren, KatherineNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pariseau, KevinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Van De Velde, WillemCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
So great is the dignity and excellency of humane nature, and so active those sparks of heavenly fire it partakes of, that they ought to be look'd upon as very mean, and unworthy the name of men, who thro' pusillanimity, by them call'd prudence, or thro' sloth, which they stile moderation, or else through avarice, to which they give the name frugality, at any rate withdraw themselves from performing great and noble actions.
— Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri,
A Voyage Round the World
The Commerce of the World, especially as it now carried on, is an unbounded Ocean of Business; Trackless and unknown, like the Seas it is managed upon; the Merchant is no more to be follow'd in his Adventures, than a Maze or Labyrinth is to be trac'd out without a Clue.

— Daniel Defoe

A Plan of the English Commerce
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To Maurine
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He was not merely awakened, but detonated out of an uncommonly long and repetitive dream.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is the second volume of the three-volume edition. Please don't combine with the fourth or fifth volume of the eight-volume edition with the same title.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060733357, Paperback)

In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves -- including one Jack Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-Cocked Jack -- devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues -- a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver ... nay, gold ... nay, legendary gold.

In Europe, the exquisite and resourceful Eliza, Countess de la Zeur, is stripped of her immense personal fortune by France's most dashing privateer. Penniless and at risk from those who desire either her or her head (or both), she is caught up in a web of international intrigue, even as she desperately seeks the return of her most precious possession.

Meanwhile, Newton and Leibniz continue to propound their grand theories as their infamous rivalry intensifies, stubborn alchemy does battle with the natural sciences, dastardly plots are set in motion ... and Daniel Waterhouse seeks passage to the Massachusetts colony in hopes of escaping the madness into which his world has descended.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:26 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"In the year 1689, a cabal of Barbary galley slaves -- including one Jack Shaftoe, aka King of the Vagabonds, aka Half-Cocked Jack -- devises a daring plan to win freedom and fortune. A great adventure ensues -- a perilous race for an enormous prize of silver ... nay, gold ... nay, legendary gold" --Cover, p. 4.… (more)

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