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The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 7, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Smith's clever but uneven debut novel peers into the mind of the eccentric 19th-century French genius who invented the daguerreotype. In 1846, the celebrated photographer Louis Daguerre, his brain addled by the mercury process that made him famous, has a vision of the end of the world, which launches him on a quest to record a series of 10 images before the apocalypse. The aged Daguerre enlists the help of bohemian poet Charles Baudelaire, and together they prowl Paris in search of Daguerre's subjects, including "a beautiful naked woman ," "the perfect Paris boulevard," "the king of France" and Daguerre's childhood friend and long-lost love, Isobel Le Fournier, whose affections he seeks to reclaim. When Daguerre encounters Isobel's daughter, Chloe—now working in a Paris brothel under the name Pigeon—he sees a way to bring closure to his unfulfilled romance. In flashback, Smith stages a vivid re-enactment of the intellectual progress and persistent experimentation that led to Daguerre's breakthrough discovery, but he trots out clichés in the service of the sentimental love story between Daguerre and Isobel, most notably her hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold daughter. Despite predictable plot twists, Smith renders a clear-eyed portrait of Daguerre and his thinking, against a backdrop of tumultuous times. (Feb.)
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Review

"[a novel] full of hallucinatory and beautifully rendered images...a richly promising start to the literary career of Mr. Smith." -- Dallas Morning News, February 19th, 2006

"[a] vibrant first novel...Smith has an artist's eye and gives Daguerre an artist's heart." -- Detroit Free Press, February 12, 2006

(Starred Review)Smith's beautifully written debut...a compelling psychological study, a thoughtful tracing of the birth of a new art form -- Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2005
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria (February 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743271149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743271141
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,929,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dominic Smith is the author of four novels: At the Edge of a Wood (forthcoming with Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2016), Bright and Distant Shores, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, and The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre. He grew up in Sydney, Australia and now lives in Austin, Texas.

His short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The Atlantic, Texas Monthly and the Chicago Tribune's Printers Row Journal.

Smith's awards include the Dobie Paisano Fellowship from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize, the Gulf Coast Fiction Prize, and a New Works Grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council for the Arts. His novels have been recognized as a Booklist Editors' Choice, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book, and as part of the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program.

Learn more at dominicsmith.net

Customer Reviews

This was a mildly entertaining read, but I hope Smith will do better in his next book.
Scott Shorey
I devoured the book in a day or two, and have been thinking about it every day for a month now.
colouraid
The storyline dragged like slow torture and the characters seemed barely two-dimensional.
PHW

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M.J. Rose on July 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading this truly luminous novel - and finished wiping my eyes.

It is quite simply one of the most auspicious debuts I have read in years.

So often a writer who can craft a sentence with such beauty and create characters as well as you have skimps on plot. But this novel has all three and deserves all the praise it has received.

The sense of place, the emotion, the ability to enter into the artists soul all have me amazed at Smith's talent.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By C. A. Wright on February 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
This novel is so bad in its claim to be about Daguerre, it is pathetic. Daguerre is described as a lifelong bachelor seeking connection with a prostitute. What about Daguerre's wife, Englishwoman Georgina Smith? To deny her existence in this boring, uneven and poorly-considered piece makes it pulp fiction rather than historic fiction. In addition, the numerous incorrect descriptions of Daguerre's process (which could have been corrected by simply reading one of dozens of period manuals) means that the author did not bother himself with any research at all. As a practicing historic photographer, I find it especially grating when an author writes about the mechanics of a photographic process without having the slightest idea of what he/she is talking about. This book is written by a poor writer with poor writing skills, and certainly none whatsoever in this area. Do not buy, or even read this book: it is junk in the truest sense.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 25, 2006
Format: Audio CD
While French artist and scientist Louis Daguerre is recognized for his invention of the daguerreotype photographic process, his life was the stuff of great drama. He was, indeed, a founding father of photography yet his battle for that honor was hard won, as he had to fight to protect his patent.

However, that struggle was a small price compared to the physical effects of the pursuit of his passion. Daguerre exposed himself to mercury vapors, a necessity to engrave the images on a plate. The danger was that he could not avoid some exposure to mercury poisoning, which was eventually his downfall.

The great man became delusional, convinced that the end of the world was near - as soon as a year. We hear: ""When the vision came, he was in the bathtub. After a decade of using mercury vapors to cure his photographic images, Louis Daguerre's mind had faltered--a pewter plate left too long on this cold evening of 1846, he felt a strange calm. Outside, a light snow was falling and a vaporous blue dusk seemed to be rising out of the Seine. "

Then, he made a list of what needed to be photographed before it was too late. His choices were a beautiful nude woman, the sun, the moon, the perfect Paris boulevard, a pastoral scene, galloping horses, a perfect apple, a flower, the king of France, and Isobel Le Fournier. (A woman Daguerre loved)

Smith is masterful as he traces Daguerre's descent into madness. This is a bravura debut novel, outstanding not only for the history of photography but for its psychological aspects and picture of mid nineteenth century Paris.

Although born in New England actor Stephen Hoye spent much of his professional life in London. Many will remember him for his Audie winning narration of Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. Conrad Guest on July 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A clever depiction of Louis Daguerre -- a historical figure -- set against the backdrop of an authentic 19th century France results in this alluring historical novel by emerging novelist Dominic Smith. The beauty of this piece is in the balance between the story -- about a man's obsession with capturing forever a fleeting moment -- and the storytelling.

Daguerre, having invented the daguerreotype, finds that his brain has been poisoned by the mercury process he discovered. Believing the apocalypse is near, he sets out to capture on film 10 images before it commences. His quest leads him to a chance encounter with the daughter of his childhood sweetheart and life-long love, Isobel Le Fournier. Isobel broke Daguerre's young heart by marrying an older man, more stable than Daguerre, whom she viewed as a dreamer. Rejecting him in the manner she did drives Daguerre to attain success and fame, but alas, without Isobel (who from afar watches Daguerre's star rise with more than a little regret), it means little.

At the peak of his artistic popularity, as his madness grows, Daguerre hires Chloe, a middle-aged woman who works in a Paris brothel, to pose for him -- the nude he wishes to capture on film. When he learns she is the daughter of his beloved Isobel, he tries to rescue her from the life she has "chosen" -- never touching her and looking at her nudity only through the lens of his camera. Ignorant that he is her mother's childhood love, Chloe tells Daguerre that her mother forbid her from marrying the man she loved for much the same reason her mother eschewed her childhood love to instead marry a man she did not love -- she wished her daughter to be well-provided for. Now she claims she is incapable of loving any one man, consenting instead to loving her many patrons.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Zinta Aistars on March 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I read this book on the long road from Michigan to Austin, Texas, where the author resides. I was on a journey to meet Dominic Smith, to interview him for the Kalamazoo College alumni magazine, LuxEsto. Smith had made a short stop in Kalamazoo years ago, but he had left an impression. Now, as I read his debut novel, I soon understood -- this young author will be leaving an indelible impression on every reader to come across his work.

Brilliance rises like a mercury vapor from the very first lines, making giddy with the magic of characters rising up, taking form, and coming alive on the page:

"When the vision came, he was in the bathtub. After a decade of using mercury vapors to cure his photographic images, Louis Daguerre's mind had faltered - a pewter plate left too long in the sun. But during his final lucid minutes on this cold evening of 1846, he felt a strange calm..."

Smith has lifted moments of history and wrapped them in vapors of imagination. How might this visionary, the founding father of photography, Louis Daguerre, have seen the world? What is the lens of his eye on life and might we, for a moment in time, look through it and see as he might have seen? He created his art at a time when he thought the world was coming to an end. Perhaps for that reason alone, his photographic images had a mystical aura about them, and his subject matter approached with such evident passion.

Daguerre makes a list of subjects he must capture in his photographs before it is too late:

1. a beautiful woman (naked)

2. the sun

3. the moon

4. the perfect Paris boulevard

5. a pastoral scene

6. galloping horses

7. a perfect apple

8. a flower

9.
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