Friday 28 February 2014

Viper Wine - Hermione Eyre

This is rather a confusing book to read and I am deeply torn about how I feel about it. It works really well as a historical novel looking at the lives of a pair of uniquely fascinating 17th century characters. Alongside this it makes clever use of extracts from 17th century writings alongside contemporary interviews from 'celebrities' to provide a comparative look at medical practice and the 'treatment' of ageing. This not only delves into the bizarre ways in which some people are willing to treat signs of ageing, but also shows that many of the weird and wonderful methods used historically actually have enough basis in reality to continue to be used to this day. So as a look into historic medical practice this works, and as a look into the corrupt and slightly manic world of high society just prior to the revolution and upheaval of civil war it also works, and works very well. Where I got a little confused, and if I'm honest annoyed, was with the sections where the modern world quite literally bleeds into the period narrative. You will be happily reading about Sir Kenelm Digby's studies into alchemy and suddenly he will start receiving messages from the future, in the form of mental text messages or spam email. This makes the story seem a little disjointed and slightly insane. I appreciate that the intention is to make Kenelm seem like a man ahead of his time, but it just comes across as bizarre and jarring. I found myself reading these sections rather more quickly than normal in order to continue with the actual story. I think that this might genuinely cause this book to do more poorly than it would otherwise; it comes across as essentially a literary Knight's Tale (film not Chaucer extract). While there is a market for properly quirky historic fiction, it is a lot more difficult to find, and although I really hope that this will do as well as it deserves, I can see it being a difficult one to pitch to prospective readers.

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