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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Masterpiece Debut: "Desideria" by Nicole Kornher-Stace (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Nicole Kornher-Stace Website
Order “DesideriaHERE

INTRODUCTION: I have vaguely heard of this novel from Prime books when it was published last year, but it truly came to my attention several weeks ago. I asked for a pdf review copy and the author was extremely kind to provide it the same day and when I opened it just hooked me from the first page so it went to the top of my reading queue while the review went into the first available slot at FBC.

Some 350+ pages later I could only say "wow!!" and I immediately re-read the novel to capture its finer points that may have escaped me on first read, while I expect I will re-read it more in years to come since it's one of these relatively rare books that stayed with me for a long time.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:"Desideria" is mesmerizing from the first page and once you get into its flow, a page turner to boot. It takes place in an unnamed provincial European city cca 18th century with a mixture of French and English names which is under the power of the rich "Governor" while the "Specialist" is sort of an underground boss that becomes the de-facto patron of smaller run-down theater Minerva.

This we figure out as the book progresses since the novel starts with a striking scene in which a girl looks into a mirror, throws a lamp in the small room and then when the building gets on fire jumps from a window to be later found unconscious and led to the city madhouse.

"She swallows once and blinks caught light away.
Then hauls the lamp back, torquing at the waist, and hurls it at the mirror, all her strength behind the throw.
It shatters, they shatter, glass into glass, and the fire out onto the table, up into the air. Hard sparks of lamp, mirror, and flame fly winking out like fireflies. She stands there as the fire scales the walls, as the fire’s scaled the walls, as the fire finds no higher purchase, dashes itself against the ceiling, hurtles raining down.
Beneath the fall of fire, her eyes still and sharpen off .
For the first time, they’re aware."

If these lines hook you as they hooked me, get the novel as soon as possible since it keeps this superb lyrical prose to the end, though there is lots of action and intrigue to come later.

"Desideria" has a very intriguing premise: an actress who truly believes she is the character she plays - all actors have to believe that to some extent but for Ange it is *real* until she is led away from the props - and the execution alternating with surreal madhouse scenes that are as good as any such I've read is just perfect.

There are two story lines: Annie/Ange in the madhouse and Ange St.Loup in the Minerva intertwine and later conflict so the question of what is "real" and what is imagined becomes more and more important as the book goes on.

Split into named chapters alternating between the "present" when Ange has been taken to the madhouse and the past detailing her life as an actress in the theater, the novel features a lot of great characters, both in the theater troupe and in the asylum.

All the actors, including the manager and his wife, the screen writers, the thief turned actor by necessity have very interesting detailed life stories, though as the novel progresses we are starting to wonder if they are real or a figment of Annie's imagination who believes herself being an actress when she is just a regular mental inmate. What about the madhouse and her brutal guards and strange inmates? And then there is the play of the title with a scenario that somehow materializes into Minerva and resembles what is to come...

The resolution of the dual-storylines is excellent and the ending is great making this a debut to remember. Just unbelievably good!!


CSECooney said...

This was an EXCELLENT novel, I agree - with impeccable rhythm, dazzling prose and rapier wit. I would recommend it to the reader who likes to swan-dive into words and then just loll around in them for the joy of it.

Liviu said...

Now if Desideria was widely known and it would be great ..


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