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Imagine a feast. Actually, no. That would be too much.
Imagine going to your favorite restaurant. Starting with your favorite soup and
proceeding to eat the perfect amount of your favorite entrée, leaving just
enough room for dessert.
Or imagine a visit to the Louvre and being the only person
in the room with the Mona Lisa. Imagine being able to soak it all in–the
details, the richness of the textures and colors and lines.
I probably shouldn’t be comparing a first-time novelist to
Da Vinci, but here goes. The Blind
Contessa’s New Machine is a scrumptious book. The story is wonderful–a young
woman in Italy many centuries ago finds herself going blind just as she marries
and moves into a new home. I won’t go into all the details (I was annoyed with
the jacket cover for giving too much away), but suffice it to say that the plot
held my attention, which is one of my criteria for great writing. The story is
great, and based on historical facts. But the writing is even better. And it
was the beauty of the prose that makes me say this book is like touching
velvet, eating delicacies, viewing a work of art.
I’ll give two examples, chosen at random:
“A pair of butterflies balanced on a branch. A chrysalis
hung below them. Inside the translucent casing, she could make out the large
eyes and cramped legs of the altered insect, its wings folded like lengths of
brocade on its back. The adults above it were faint blue, paler than the sky,
their lacy wing tips fading to a rich cream, broken here and there by irregular
bits of black, as if their maker had flicked a paintbrush after them as they
“The blindness had cured her of superstition about the
secret qualities of darkness, the dread that things shifted and became strange
when not governed by a human eye. Through long association, she had learned
that the darkness had no power to alter what it hid. Her hairbrush or pen might
be obscured by the blindness, but when she reached for them, they were the same
as they had always been. As a result, shadows no longer held any magic for her.”
A beautiful, haunting love story written with excellence.