[Book Review] Viper Wine, by Hermione Eyre

This is a book for an energetic mind.

I haven’t finished it yet. I’m having a hard time getting into it, not because it isn’t good or well written or whatever, but because I’m always so damn tired. If I felt like reading something, it would be this book.

My first thought, after reading the description of the book, was that Viper Wine had the potential to make a powerful statement about the social and psychological damage done by the beauty standard. The false value of aesthetic beauty, the judgment of worth by beauty, the patriarchal grading of women by their relative beauty, the competition that arises and demands unnatural measures to achieve “beauty” – all of these damage ourselves and our society, and this book could show us how.

I looked at the table of contents. The chapter titles sounded like short stories (“A Discourse Between Brothers”) or poems (“Moonbeams Are Cold and Moist”). The include modern pop culture references (“Fame” and “Yellow Submarine”). Together, they hinted at a poetic, ornate, satirically flowery style of writing. They were right.

There is a prologue, and Epilogue, and 38 chapters. There are about 400 pages of text. Large pages. There is also a Bibliography (selected), and a list of illustrations. This surprised me. I mean, yeah, it says it’s based on real events, but that phrase gets tossed about quite a lot with very little research to back it up. Not so in this case. Perhaps it’s because this novel, this fictionalization, was written by a journalist. But frankly, calling Hermione Eyre (surely that’s a pen name?) a journalist after reading any of this book at all, feels so incomplete as to be false. This woman is an Author. She has crafted what is perhaps a masterpiece.

I took a peek at the author photo on the back flap, curious about the face that made Viper Wine. The woman in the photo challenges the viewer and does not seem above leaping out of the photo for a fist fight – if only to place bets on the winner.

I wondered, before beginning the journey that has been Reading The Book, whether there could be a connection between the ornate writing style and the theme of social beauty concepts, especially in the damage those concepts do; is the writing style another layer of satire? Now that I’m halfway into the book, I feel it must be intentional. Whatever the case, it works.

Seriously, don’t let the ornate style turn you away before giving this book a try. It isn’t over the top, and somehow it manages to not be pretentious. The story is woven by its prose. Every thread is important. Every word addresses the characters in the most human terms and stabs at the modern feminist’s foes. The text describes the patriarchy without subscribing to it. If nothing else, this story is a feminist victory.

In the end, I ranked this book at four stars instead of five only because it is not broadly accessible; the average reader will have difficulty with some of the style devices – both the overall ornateness and the insertion of radio static (no really; I don’t know how else to describe it), which is original and interesting, but hard to ‘get’ at first.

(I ranked the back cover copy fairly low because books that only list their praise on the back annoy me. Give me a reason to open it, not sound bites.)


Also, you should know that I was given a copy of Viper WineΒ to review, through bloggingforbooks.com, which is awesome.


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