Friday Reads | 18th September 2015

Long time no see. I was away enjoying a lovely relaxing holiday in Menorca for a week without proper Internet access – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I did manage to finish a couple of books whilst I was there though, so there is that. I come to you from the same slightly panicked headspace, however, so nothing much has changed with me. In fact, that feels like it will quickly become a problem as I come to the realisation that I’ve spent 22 years being told what to do to progress to the next stage of life and, now, left to make my own choices of what on earth to do, I flounder instead of decisively chase after whatever high-faluting career my family delusionally imagined I was chasing. (Amusing, to say the least)

But, whilst I am still here, and it is Friday, it seems apropos to share the book I’m currently reading. This beauty of a book – and, yes, I consider the purposely garish cover to be a beauty – is Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre.

wpid-img_20150918_123616.jpgSet in 1632 England, Viper Wine follows the anxiety of Venetia Stanley, a noblewoman once considered a beauty by society who is now less that impressed with what the ravages of time do to said infamous beauty. Her husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, doesn’t seem all too concerned by her fading youth, and would rather muse philosophically in the company of his many, many books.

The blurb says this book poses a question relevant to contemporary society – what is the cost of beauty? I would agree the book deals with this enquiry but along the way it also delves (much to my delight) into the “oddities” of seventeenth-century London – religious tensions, for one – and the numerous overlapping (and often contradictory) discourses in which society operates – political, theological, social, academic, medical, cultural etc. etc. What pleases the little early modern nerd in me, however, is the way in which Eyre is weaving all this atmosphere of Stuart London with references to Charles I and his queen and Ben Jonson alongside purposefully jarring modern references. For example, on observing the stars with his young son and musing on the existential nature of being, Sir Kenelm then assures the little boy: “There’s a starman waiting in the sky. He’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds”. The little references to pop culture aren’t hidden, per say, as Eyre does flag them up in the way that Kenelm seems to be a sort of conduit through which time flows – he can, seemingly, “see” the future or future developments, as well as existing in his present. At least, that’s how my own brain is understanding it; it’s not (yet) properly explained but it’s a device which I’m actually really enjoying.

I feel this device is the decisive bit of this book, foreshadowed early by the rather postmodern cover it has, and if you can get on-board with, and enjoy, this slightly bizarre pop-art style clash of time and place, then you’ll enjoy the writing style, and so the story – if you can’t, you’ll probably hate it. I, for one, am firmly on the love it side and I can’t wait to continue to read Viper Wine over the course of the weekend.

What’s your weekend reading plans? Please, share them below!

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