Less confusion in The Confusion

Neal Stephenson: The Confusion (Volume Two of The Baroque Cycle)

I just finished The Confusion, the second volume of The Baroque Cycle (and it really is three books, you can’t start at volume two or three) and liked it much more than the first volume. Where the first volume was confusing in its storyline and a tiny little bit pretentious in its wealth of researched detail, the second volume is more lighthearted and readable. There is much more swashbuckling, centering on the picareque of Jack Shaftoe meandering through Asia and Latin America with a merry and eventually shrinking Cabal of conspirators, and a hint of the creation of a world-wide system of currencies and trade, with Eliza’s global financial machinations. But Stephenson has a problem with endings – like Norse sagas, his characters have a habit of suddenly disappearing.
Like Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, The Confusion suffers from not being able to get fully into style: The modernity of language and thought of the main characters as well as their frequent communications with each other decreases realism while speeding up the plot. I suspect Stephenson made a deliberate decision here – whether it is motivated by consideration for his tech-enabled audience or by a belief that people thought and acted very close to how we do today then doesn’t really matter.
The Confusion, much more than Quicksilver, was fun. It has an element of continuance, like the second of the Lord of the Rings movies, but also plenty of adventure, some humor, and a touch of magical realism. I liked it and have already ordered the last volume, The System of the World, which was published two days ago. Stay tuned.