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Viper Wine: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 14, 2015
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Nominated for the Folio Prize
Nominated for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
“A postmodern fantasia set in bawdy, bustling 17th-century England, Eyre’s debut novel is an audacious mishmash of historical scholarship and addled imagination, equal parts cosmology, cosmetology, flimflammery and wrinkles in time… Eyre’s affection for this era is contagious.”—New York Times Books Review
"Daring...Beauty is the beast in British author Hermione Eyre's ambitious, deliciously clever debut... Set in a seventeenth-century London steeped in magic, vanity, decadence, devotion, trippy time travel, and a diabolical beauty potion worthy of Shakespeare, the book’s extravagant intelligence and heart were inspired by a true love story for the ages."—Elle
“A biting tale of age-obsession and vanity way before Botox.” —Cosmopolitan
"Viper Wine defies rigid definition....A lushly rendered portrait of life at Charles I’s court explodes in a maelstrom of anachronistic references (think David Bowie, Naomi Campbell, and the Daily Mail), a Romantic cautionary tale of beauty’s hypnotic power (think Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birthmark, as written by a young, female, contemporary writer), and a dynamic study of England at the brink of its Civil War...Viper Wine is an incredible accomplishment. You will love it."—Bustle
“Eyre’s storytelling demands and deserves our attention. Viper Wine is a beautiful, unexpected, pleasureful book that shows us we’re not the first generation to be obsessed with the new and the now.”—The Rumpus
"Hermione Eyre’s brilliant debut, Viper Wine, explores the perils of achieving beauty at all costs, set against a backdrop of the political and social upheaval of 17th-century London...Eyre’s stylish flair and sense of invention is truly impressive. Like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Viper Wine is a historic fantasy reminding us of the limitless reaches of the imagination."—BookPage
“Fascinating…A fact-filled fiction that entertains and enlightens.”—Library Journal
“Eyre’s confident debut novel expertly combines historical fact with modern-day invention…An engrossing take on a timeless subject.”—Publishers Weekly
“A tale of beauty and intrigue set in the court of England’s King Charles I, this energetic novel pits magic, science, religion, and royalty against one another in a clash unlike any other. Examining both seventeenth-century English politics and the prices that people will pay for beauty, Eyre’s work creates a compelling narrative that draws readers into its world.”—World Literature Today
International Praise for Viper Wine
“Audacious…Using an alchemy all of her own, Eyre's postmodern take on the 17th century renders it dazzlingly fresh and contemporary.”—Guardian (UK)
“Viper Wine offers up a potent mixture of baroque intricacy and gothic horror…The stylistic brio and technical invention on show here is truly impressive…Eyre’s poise and control make her easily the equal of most historical novelists, but it’s her vision of worlds bleeding into worlds and her probing and pastiching of 17th-century style that are truly exciting. Viper Wine is an enormously impressive debut.”—Telegraph (UK)
“Hermione Eyre pulls off a notable trick in Viper Wine, not just by reconstructing her chosen period but rendering it permeable to intrusions from other ages…Playful…A meticulously luscious fantasia on a theme of English high life in the 1630s...Gorgeous.”—Times Literary Supplement
“Exuberantly inventive and intelligent…Sumptuous, strange and startlingly original.”—Mail on Sunday (UK)
“Playful, witty and expansive… an exceptionally clever and exhilarating excursion through Caroline high society, filled with echoes and anticipations of our own times.” Sunday Times
“It sounds mad, and it is, but Eyre has worked her own magic to ensure it is so in an entrancing and perfectly plausible way…. Eyre’s attention to tone and detail is flawless. Viper Wine is a dazzling postmodern baroque carnivalesque.”—The National (UAE)
“As an allegory of our ageing-obsessed generation, [Viper Wine] is hard to argue with.”—Harper’s Bazaar
“Eyre is a clever historian and a cunning writer of dialogue. She also understands what makes a fun, sexy read…A wickedly funny parable of today’s beauty industry…Well-researched and completely mad…with moments of descriptive brilliance and breathtaking cleverness.”—The Times (UK)
“[A] cornucopia of a novel…Would I recommend it? Certainly.”—Daily Mail (UK)
“[A] psychedelic trip of a novel… Untiringly carnivalesque…Bold and wildly original, Viper Wine is an exuberantly witty play on the vanity and ghoulishness of the beauty industry, and a celebration of the unfading beauty of language. Eyre’s impersonation of early Caroline prose has perfect pitch; her sentences hum and trill with pleasure, and her words are as plump and strange as moonfruit. Hermione Eyre has injected new youth into the historical novel.”—London Evening Standard
“Eyre’s manipulation of history is as funny as it is surreal.” Financial Times (UK)
““No account of [Van Dyck] has perhaps been so convincing as that in Viper Wine . . . An intoxicating fantasy in which real-life characters are haunted by the future…Evocative…As art history it’s deeply unorthodox—but as a postmodern portrait of a trend-setting painter in the midst of a comeback, it seems both thrillingly and entertainingly right.”—Independent (UK)
“A profoundly moving parable about the process of ageing, the quest for knowledge and the nature of love… Eyre’s voracious enthusiasm for eclectic, highly-researched detail is persistently entertaining, breathing new life into the genre of the historical novel. A real tonic.”—Country Life
“Viper Wine is a rich, raucous ride through 17th century London, a city obsessed with power, revenge and vanity.”—Stylist Magazine
“Eyre has written a sumptuous, sensual tale of beauty and vanity; it’s crying out for a TV adaptation.”—Bookseller
"Magical realism meets a seventeenth-century Portrait of a Marriage. To say it is dazzling would be a puritan understatement."--Tom Holland, author of Rubicon and Persian Fire
"Persistently bizarre, fecund, technically inventive, funny - and oddly touching."--Jonathan Meades
"Viper Wine richly evokes Elizabethan and Jacobean language and is alert to the plight of Catholics under Elizabeth I and King James, while at the same time putting a post-modernist spin on the tight and enthralling plot. I used to be dubious about alchemy and antiquarianism, but the wit and excitement of this first novel breathes new life into them."--Tom Paulin
About the Author
Hermione Eyre was born in London and studied at Oxford University. As a journalist she has interviewed Carey Mulligan, Juliette Binoche, Robert Pattinson, and Yo-Yo Ma, among others. She contributes to publications including The Times, The Independent, Financial Times, The London Evening Standard, Elle, Harper's Bazaar and Christies Magazine. Viper Wine is her first novel.
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Despite its captivating subject matter, the book was surprisingly boring. It sprawled and meandered without ever providing much substance. Venetia's character, especially, was disappointing. I was intrigued by her in the beginning of the novel, but she never developed into anything more. In fact, many of the characters fell flat, in my opinion; they seemed more like caricatures than complex PEOPLE.
The one positive thing I can say about Viper Wine is that it definitely evokes a specific time period in history. So if you are someone who likes to go hang out at a Renaissance fair and get lost in the romance of the past, you might like this book more than I did. As is, though, this book's wordiness, coupled with its unimpressive plot and characters, made it a disappointment in my opinion.
However, where Eyre more than emphasizes her point about beauty and its superficiality, she struggles somewhat with her other main character's perspective--Kenelm Digby, Venetia's husband, wants nothing more than for his wife to realize that at any age, she is beautiful in his eyes. As an apothecary and dabbler in the hermetic arts, Kenelm could, if he so wishes, concoct a bit of "viper wine" that would ease away his wife's wrinkles with the 17th century effectiveness of Botox, but he stands firm in his opinion that aging is inevitable even for the era's great beauties. Besides, his mind is filled with his inventiveness--he freely floats through time whenever the notion takes him to explore such modern concepts as quantum particles and nanobiotechnology--when he isn't encumbered by the fact that his father was tried and hung as a traitor to the Crown. For the reader, it is this paranormal ability of Kenelm's that muddles the plot--creating a labyrinth of ideas and thinking that stall the story instead of endowing it with the intended added dimension.
As Eyre's story progresses and Venetia resorts to the most dire beauty aids, her ability to think rationally deteriorates as her reliance on the witch doctor who assembles her potions becomes more addictive. Eyre's comments on the pursuit of beauty at all costs transcends the 17th century in the same way that her character Kenelm avoids the limitations of the science of his time. Nonetheless, as interesting as her thoughts are on the subject of beauty, vanity and other absolutes, the overall presentation detracts from the strength of the premise; the reader gets lost within the labyrinth of too much cleverness, opting to get more rapidly and straightforwardly to the point.
Bottom line? Hermoine Eyre's "Viper Wine" points out that beauty treatments in the form of Botox or surgery may result in a younger version of a generic human being, but don't necessarily ever replicate the youth an individual once had; it may erase the etched lines and expressions of experience time and age have rendered, leaving that face devoid of character and life. The result is always disappointing--a pathetic substitution for health and well-being--and in the case of Venetia Stanley hastens her demise after destroying her mental state. Eyre gathers her 17th century characters to deliver this message with great success, but muddles the effect with too much paranormal activity and time leaping to keep the reader within a range of reason that doesn't compete with the story's main thrust. Not Recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren
Venetia Stanley is a great beauty obsessed with preserving her looks. This drives her to extreme measures that have dire consequences. Her husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, is accomplished and ambitious and dabbles with alchemy. He is bemused by his wife's obsession but refuses to indulge it. Neither are especially sympathetic. Granted options for women were limited and Venetia's face was, at least in her mind, her fortune. But she comes across as arrogant and self-centered. Her husband does not fare much better. The promised meld between magic and mystery, past and future, science and alchemy is absent. It was difficult to follow, a chore to finish as it fails to interest or entertain.