The Mysterious Bookshop

Eyre, Hermione, Viper Wine

Publishers Weekly
02/16/2015
Set in 1630s England, a country heading for civil war, Eyre’s confident debut novel expertly combines historical fact with modern-day invention. Sir Kenelm Digby is an alchemist, a man at the crossroads of magic and science; in Eyre’s imagination, “sometimes his mind was double hinged, and could go forward as well as back.” Eyre’s narrative includes anachronistic imaginings of the future: microscopes, Fermat’s Theorem, binary code, and even Barbara Streisand. Digby’s wife, Venetia, desperate to regain her youthful beauty, imbibes Viper Wine, an illicit concoction whose ingredients include snake venom and the urine of pregnant mares. Although Venetia is gratified by the results, the drink renders her face largely immovable, the 17th-century equivalent of Botox. Parallels with the 21st century abound, as women are “misled, traduced, deluded” into cosmetic procedures and “always forced by their pride to lie and say they pinched not, they painted not” and that “everyone pretended to believe them... laughing as soon as they turned their back.” Eyre’s novel, darting as it does through centuries, is an engrossing take on a timeless subject.