The Merciful Women
by Federico Andahazi
Translated by Alberto Manguel
Genre; Historical Fiction/Mystery
"I recommend that you try it: try eating the books that you read" (pg91)
Plot; Set in Switzerland in 1816, Dr John William Polidori is the personal secretary of Lord Byron. As one of five guests staying at the Villa Diodati, on Lake Geneva, Polidori starts receiving disturbingly secret letters from an unknown woman.
Polidori, an unpopular member of the party, knows there is only one way that he can raise himself to the level of Lord Byron and this is exactly what the mysterious woman is able to offer him. But she asks for something in return. She will only scratch his back if he scratches hers, but is the itch worth the scratch?
My Thoughts; I think it is official that unusual books about eating and drinking unsavory "things" are magnetised to me. First it was Pleasures of the Flesh and now The Merciful Women.
This book may have some distasteful sections and gaging moments, but I did really enjoy it.
Firstly I must discuss the characters. You may recognise the leading male of this story, Polidori, as the author commonly accredited with the creation of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction with his short story, The Vampyre. You may also recognise the names of the other house guests; Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and Jane Clairmont. All well known poetic and literary figures.
It is the nature of these characters that establishes the plot. This book tells a fictional account of how The Vampyre came to be, and Andahazi really has concocted an intriguing take on the story. You cannot help but be hooked in, particularly if you are familiar with the controversy surrounding the publishing of The Vampyre.
The best bit of this book really is the ending. As I was reading, I admit, I was a little worried as to how Andahazi would end the story, fearing an unsuitable happy ending, but I never saw this ending coming. I am not going to tell you much about it because I don't want to spoil the surprise, but Andahazi takes what is a good story and makes it great with that final twist.
I was surprised by this book because although it is dark in nature, I did get a few laughs. There is a fantastic part where Andahazi introduces the idea of eating a book page by page as you read it so the reader can become more intimately linked with the story. Andahazi even goes as far as picking that perfect wine to sip as you chew your Chaucer. Brilliant!
I would recommend this to people who do appreciate their authors because there are alot of literary references and I recommend it to readers who enjoy a bit of a dark book now and then. I must say though, this is a not a book for prudes or the faint of heart.