02 April 2016

Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue

Summary from Goodreads:
A daring, kaleidoscopic novel about the clash of empires and ideas in the sixteenth century that continue to reverberate throughout modernity—a story unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

Sudden Death begins with a brutal tennis match that could decide the fate of the world. The bawdy Italian painter Caravaggio and the loutish Spanish poet Quevedo battle it out before a crowd that includes Galileo, Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw Europe into the flames. In England, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII behead Anne Boleyn, and her crafty executioner transforms her legendary locks into the most sought-after tennis balls of the time. Across the ocean in Mexico, the last Aztec emperors play their own games, as conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mayan translator and lover, La Malinche, scheme and conquer, fight and f**k, not knowing that their domestic comedy will change the world. And in a remote Mexican colony a bishop reads Thomas More’s Utopia and thinks that instead of a parody, it’s a manual.

In this mind-bending, prismatic novel, worlds collide, time coils, traditions break down. There are assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, utopias, carnal liaisons and papal dramas, artistic and religious revolutions, love stories and war stories. A dazzlingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Álvaro Enrigue tells a grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era in this short, powerful punch of a novel. Game, set, match.

Are you looking for a meta-fictional fever dream that includes a Renaissance game of tennis, Anne Boleyn's hair, painting, and the devastation wreaked upon Mexico by Hernán Cortés?

You want Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue.

There is so much packed into this short novel.  There are emails between the author and his editor about the book, historical notes about tennis, Catholic church history, art patronage, genocide perpetrated against the native cultures of Central America, and descriptions of beautiful jewel-like feather-craft.  All this takes place between the games of a tennis match between a painter (Caravaggio) and a poet (Quevedo) which serves as a duel.  It's mind-boggling.

The writing - and here I have to shout-out Natasha Wimmer - is so vivid.  The tennis scenes where the spectators are described and the descriptions of the art of the period are breathtaking.  An absolute pleasure to read.

Dear FTC: I started reading a DRC of this book then I bought a copy.

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