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Viper Wine
Cover of Viper Wine
Viper Wine
A Novel
"Using an alchemy all of her own, Eyre's postmodern take on the 17th century renders it dazzlingly fresh and contemporary." --Guardian (UK)

Venetia Stanley was the great beauty of her day, so dazzling she inspired Ben Jonson to poetry and Van Dyck to painting. But now she is married, the adoration to which she has become accustomed has curdled to scrutiny, and she fears her powers are waning. Her devoted husband, Sir Kenelm Digby--explorer, diplomat, philosopher, alchemist-- refuses to prepare a beauty tonic for her, insisting on her continued perfection.

Venetia, growing desperate, secretly engages an apothecary to sell her "viper wine"--a strange potion said to bolster the blood and invigorate the skin. The results are instant, glorious, and addictive, and soon the ladies of the court of Charles I are looking unnaturally youthful. But there is a terrible price to be paid, as science clashes with magic, puritans rebel against the decadent monarchy, and England slides into civil war.

Based on real events and written with anachronistic verve, Viper Wine is an intoxicating brew of love, longing and vanity, where the 17th and 21st centuries mix and mingle in the most enchanting and mind-bending ways.

From the Hardcover edition.
"Using an alchemy all of her own, Eyre's postmodern take on the 17th century renders it dazzlingly fresh and contemporary." --Guardian (UK)

Venetia Stanley was the great beauty of her day, so dazzling she inspired Ben Jonson to poetry and Van Dyck to painting. But now she is married, the adoration to which she has become accustomed has curdled to scrutiny, and she fears her powers are waning. Her devoted husband, Sir Kenelm Digby--explorer, diplomat, philosopher, alchemist-- refuses to prepare a beauty tonic for her, insisting on her continued perfection.

Venetia, growing desperate, secretly engages an apothecary to sell her "viper wine"--a strange potion said to bolster the blood and invigorate the skin. The results are instant, glorious, and addictive, and soon the ladies of the court of Charles I are looking unnaturally youthful. But there is a terrible price to be paid, as science clashes with magic, puritans rebel against the decadent monarchy, and England slides into civil war.

Based on real events and written with anachronistic verve, Viper Wine is an intoxicating brew of love, longing and vanity, where the 17th and 21st centuries mix and mingle in the most enchanting and mind-bending ways.

From the Hardcover edition.
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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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 16, 2015
    Set in 1630s England, a country heading for civil war, Eyre’s confident debut novel expertly combines historical fact with modern-day invention. Sir Kenelm Digby is an alchemist, a man at the crossroads of magic and science; in Eyre’s imagination, “sometimes his mind was double hinged, and could go forward as well as back.” Eyre’s narrative includes anachronistic imaginings of the future: microscopes, Fermat’s Theorem, binary code, and even Barbara Streisand. Digby’s wife, Venetia, desperate to regain her youthful beauty, imbibes Viper Wine, an illicit concoction whose ingredients include snake venom and the urine of pregnant mares. Although Venetia is gratified by the results, the drink renders her face largely immovable, the 17th-century equivalent of Botox. Parallels with the 21st century abound, as women are “misled, traduced, deluded” into cosmetic procedures and “always forced by their pride to lie and say they pinched not, they painted not” and that “everyone pretended to believe them... laughing as soon as they turned their back.” Eyre’s novel, darting as it does through centuries, is an engrossing take on a timeless subject.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2015
    British journalist Eyre makes her fiction debut with the tale of a 17th-century beauty's dangerous quest for eternal youth.Venetia Stanley and her husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, are actual historical figures, as are Antoon Van Dyck, Ben Jonson and a host of others from across the centuries who caper through Eyre's postmodern mashup. Andy Warhol discerns unhappiness in Van Dyck's portrait of the couple; supermodel Naomi Campbell is among those whose cautionary tales of disastrous beauty treatments lead Kenelm, deeply steeped in the mysteries of alchemy, to deny his beloved wife's request that he mix her a potion to restore her youthful freshness. So instead she goes to Lancelot Choice, whose Viper Wine soon bleaches away her age spots and plumps up her skin. But the potion is dangerously addictive and leads Venetia to new treatments that leave her face grotesquely swollen, its muscles almost immobilized. The allusion to Botox is clearly intentional, as are a flock of ghostly comments heard by Kenelm toward the end that suggest women through the ages are obsessed with their looks. Dressing up this less-than-breathtaking insight with the jarring spectacle of Kenelm quoting David Bowie and Neil Armstrong is not very plausibly justified by the revelation that "to [Kenelm], time was circular, and alchemical Wisdom was a golden chain." Eyre has clearly done a great deal of research, but it's mostly employed in eye-crossingly dull passages detailing Kenelm's esoteric studies. There are some sharply drawn characters, but too many of them are like the earthy Mary Tree, who strides into the story with promising vigor only to meander in and out of the increasingly self-indulgent narrative until she's finally shoehorned in one last time to make the author's very obvious final point. A promising idea swamped by the excesses of postmodernism: the random plundering of history and an irritating air of knowingness.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2014
    Muse to Ben Johnson and Van Dyck, Venetia Stanley fears that her celebrated beauty is fading. But though her husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, is an alchemist as well as an explorer and a time traveler, he won't brew her the vivifying potion he doesn't think she needs. Meanwhile, the ladies at the court of Charles I "are" drinking something vivifying called viper wine. Written in heightened, twisty-magical language and receiving raves in the UK, where Eyre is a well-known journalist; with a 30,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Elle "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."
  • Cosmopolitan "A biting tale of age-obsession and vanity way before Botox."
  • BookPage "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."
  • Library Journal "Fascinating...A fact-filled fiction that entertains and enlightens."
  • Publishers Weekly "Eyre's confident debut novel expertly combines historical fact with modern-day invention...An engrossing take on a timeless subject."
  • Guardian (UK) "Audacious...Using an alchemy all of her own, Eyre's postmodern take on the 17th century renders it dazzlingly fresh and contemporary."
  • Telegraph (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."
  • Times Literary Supplement "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."
  • Mail on Sunday (UK) "Exuberantly inventive and intelligent...Sumptuous, strange and startlingly original."
  • The National (UAE) "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."
  • Harper's Bazaar "As an allegory of our ageing-obsessed generation, [Viper Wine] is hard to argue with."
  • The Times (UK) "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."
  • Daily Mail (UK) "[A] cornucopia of a novel...Would I recommend it? Certainly."
  • London Evening Standard "[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."
  • Independent (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."
  • Country Life "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."
  • Tom Holland, author of Rubiconand Persian Fire "Magical realism meets a seventeenth-century Portrait of a Marriage. To say it is dazzling would be a puritan understatement."
  • Jonathan Meades "Persistently bizarre, fecund, technically inventive, funny - and oddly touching."
  • Tom Paulin

    "Viper Wine richly evokes Elizabethan and Jacobean language and is alert to the
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