Book Review: The Absolute Book, by Elizabeth Knox

Available in bookshops nationwide from 12 September 2019
The Launch is at Unity Books on Thursday, 12 September

cv_the_absolute_bookElizabeth Knox’s thirteenth novel promises fantasy on a grand scale from the outset, with its brave title, heft, and illustrative cover; yet turn the pages and the reader is transported into the opening of a juicy crime thriller. Thus begins an unpredictable and intelligent work of imagination that plunges the reader ever deeper into a modern world interwoven within a realm of fantasy and folklore.

The story follows Taryn Cornick, a successful writer from England, whose recent literary acclaim and marriage to a wealthy and thoughtful husband should be enviable, yet are overshadowed by the loss of her older sister in a hit-and-run incident. Unable to reconcile herself with the punishment meted out by the justice system, she sets the wheels in motion for her own revenge – and unwittingly, her damnation. What ensues is a kaleidoscopic tale of her salvation by Shift, a misfit from a seemingly utopian parallel world, and a band of characters encountered along the way. Could Taryn’s latest book, inspired by the library of her late grandfather provide the key to what everyone – and everything is so desperately seeking?

This book was unexpectedly fast-paced: I could almost feel the author grabbing me by the shirtfront and ripping me through the portals of this labyrinthine fantasy. The relaxed writing style and sensory descriptions give the story as much ease and addictiveness as a holiday paperback, but without compromising on intellect. Knox aligns her story and characters in our current social, cultural and environmental state, and uses the fantasy realms to question and highlight, horrify and add humour to the ultimate questions, and challenges we face. Taryn’s reality, past and present, unravels to the reader in patterns that begin with something seemingly idyllic which is inevitably corrupt or corrupted. The same goes for the fantasy realm of Knox’s story – the utopian society is riddled with flaws, the demons are more sinned against than sinning, and Purgatory shares our frustrations with public transport and healthcare.

This is the kind of book you keep on your shelf for years to come, and discover new depths each time you re-read it. Anyone who enjoys the bounty and beauty of J.R.R.Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and the far-from-perfect characters of Neil Gaiman will appreciate the depth of imagination, and level of critical thinking that has been poured into this book. Even Taryn’s rare slip in word use, which momentarily unveils her New Zealand creator, can be forgiven. It reminds the reader this is not an English import, it is a New Zealand writer at the top of their game.

Reviewed by Lynette Hartgill

The Absolute Book
by Elizabeth Knox
Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776562305

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