At Whitehall Palace in 1632, the ladies at the court of Charles I are beginning to look suspiciously alike. Plump cheeks, dilated pupils, and a heightened sense of pleasure are the first signs that they have been drinking a potent new beauty tonic, Viper Wine, distilled and discreetly dispensed by the physician Lancelot Choice.
Famed beauty Venetia Stanley is so extravagantly dazzling she has inspired Ben Jonson to poetry and Van Dyck to painting, provoking adoration and emulation from the masses. But now she is married and her “mid-climacteric” approaches, all that adoration has curdled to scrutiny, and she fears her powers are waning. Her devoted husband, Sir Kenelm Digby – alchemist, explorer, philosopher, courtier, and time-traveller – believes he has the means to cure wounds from a distance, but he so loves his wife that he will not make her a beauty tonic, convinced she has no need of it.
From the whispering court at Whitehall, to the charlatan physicians of Eastcheap, here is a marriage in crisis, and a country on the brink of civil war. The novel takes us backstage at a glittering Inigo Jones court masque, inside a dour Puritan community, and into the Countess of Arundel's snail closet. We see a lost Rubens altarpiece and peer into Venetia’s black-wet obsidian scrying mirror. Based on real events, Viper Wine is 1632 rendered in Pop Art prose; a place to find alchemy, David Bowie, recipes for seventeenth-century beauty potions, a Borgesian unfinished library and a submarine that sails beneath the Thames.
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Hermione Eyre’s bold and satisfying debut...offers up a potent mixture of baroque intricacy and gothic horror. Like Laurent Binet’s HHhH… Viper Wine tries to tease out the tensions that exist when telling history as fiction. Eyre’s novel is stylistically a world away from Binet’s, but shows some of the same playfulness in its reworking of historical sources… The stylistic brio and technical invention on show here is truly impressive… - Sunday Telegraph
A wickedly funny parable of today's beauty industry... Descriptive brilliance and breathtaking cleverness. - The Times
A genre-defying debut novel... Vivid and vivacious – hats off to Eyre. - Tatler
No account of [Van Dyck] has perhaps been so convincing as that in Viper Wine… 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 on Sunday
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... Hermione Eyre has injected new youth into the historical novel. - Evening Standard
Almost 400 years after Venetia Stanley's death, little has changed. As an allegory of our ageing-obsessed generation, [Viper Wine] is hard to argue with. - Harper's Bazaar
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
An intoxicating fantasy in which real-life characters are haunted by the future. - Independent on Sunday
Exuberantly inventive and intelligent... Sumptuous, strange and startlingly original. - Mail on Sunday
[A] cornucopia of a novel. - Daily Mail
Using an alchemy all of her own, Eyre's postmodern take on the 17th century renders it dazzlingly fresh and contemporary. - Observer
As funny as it is surreal. - Financial Times
Playful, witty and expansive... An exceptionally clever and exhilarating excursion through Caroline high society. - Sunday Times
This funny and exciting novel takes a fresh look at life during the excitement and danger of the 17th century. - Catholic Herald
The language is beautiful, creating fantastic images with her descriptions. - Bookmunch
Eyre’s prose is sensuous and rich… Her recreation of the period is persuasive and alluring. - Independent on Sunday
A pacy, cleverly postmodern historical novel... Viper Wine is a high-flying, high-concept mix that stylishly transmutes its wildly disparate elements into an assured, flamboyant gem. - Metro
A mad, psychedelic romp through some of history’s most fertile ground... The author’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
Clever, lively and playful... [An] impressive first novel. - Tablet
A dazzling debut… Wickedly funny. - ELLE Decoration
This dazzling firework of a debut novel is a reminder of how inventive and original historical fiction can be. - Irish Times
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 moments…are made all the more striking by being woven unannounced into a meticulously luscious fantasia on a theme of English high life in the 1630s. - Times Literary Supplement
Profoundly moving - Country Life
About the Author
Hermione Eyre is a journalist and former croupier. She read English at Hertford College, Oxford and was a staff writer and TV critic at the Independent on Sunday for seven years, then chief interviewer at the London Evening Standard Magazine. This is her first novel.