Books: A Mask That Never Slips THE QUINCUNX by Charles Palliser

Ballantine; 788 pages; $25

THE QUINCUNX by Charles Palliser; Ballantine; 788 pages; $25

Well into this enormous novel, one of the hundreds of characters who populate its pages remarks, "In any novel I collaborated upon everything would be a part of the whole design -- down even to the disposition and numbering of the chapters." Not surprisingly, a like symmetry turns up in The Quincunx itself. It contains roughly half a million words, apportioned as follows: five parts, each as long as a conventional contemporary novel, which in turn are divided into five books with 25 chapters apiece. Structurally, then, the work lives up to...