Review: ‘Salamander’ by Thomas Wharton

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Friday, August 20, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

An eccentric count in Slovakia summons the great London printer Nicholas Flood to his castle for an unusual assignment: the creation of an infinite book. Flood is intrigued by the challenge as he is drawn to the count’s daughter, Irena. Their passion (and its shattering consequences) becomes the catalyst for Flood’s spellbinding, world-spanning quest in the company of his young daughter, Pica, who was raised in a Venice ospedale. Along the way the novel gathers stories that range from a Chinese tale of jealousy and lost love, to the remarkable history of Alexandria’s other great library, and to epoch-making moments on the battlefields of colonial America.  (Goodreads Summary)

I wanted to like this book much more than I actually did, as the story had the potential to be so good. I liked the way that the setting was just far enough removed from the recognisable historical past that it feels uncanny and strange rather than totally different; the ideas the novel has about books are intriguing and enjoyable; and some of the descriptive passages are excellent. Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite live up to the expectations of the blurb or of the beginning of the book.

The book essentially has two plots: the first of the mad mechanical castle and its inhabitants and the second of the journey around the world in quest of the components for the infinite book. Both would have been quite good on their own, but they did not seem to be particularly well meshed together and for most of the book they felt entirely separate. I would rather that both sections had been fleshed out a bit and more interwoven with each other to create a longer book. As it stands, both stories feel skimmed over at times and neither is concluded in as satisfactory a manner as I feel it should be.

I also found the lack of quotation marks very distracting. Direct speech was indicated with dashes and came across more like reported speech, a device which was used all too often in any case. The result of this was that I often found the characters to be remote and unreal. I wish this book had been better.

Salamander by Thomas Wharton.  Published by Flamingo, 2003, pp. 372.  Originally published in 2001. 

N.B. This is an old review written in 2010 and posted on Goodreads and LibraryThing before I started keeping track of all the books I read here at Old English Rose Reads.  I’ve decided to keep copies here so that this remains a complete record of my reading since I started reviewing books for my own pleasure.

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