Book Talk: A painting inspires Eyre's 'Viper Wine'

Thu Jun 4, 2015 7:11am EDT
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By Verity Watkins

LONDON (Reuters) - Hermione Eyre's "Viper Wine" begins in 1632 with Lady Venetia Digby, a famous court beauty -- the A-list celebrity of her day. But Lady Venetia is at a dangerous age and her looks are failing.

In a desperate attempt to turn back the clock she falls prey to Viper Wine, a quackery tonic which she must keep a secret from her alchemist husband, courtier and traveler, Sir Kenelm Digby.

The book, shortlisted for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2015, follows Venetia’s tortuous attempts to recreate her heyday.

It also follows a more complex route, powered by Digby's secret ability to telepathically range through time. He is frequently accosted with visions of future science, from the atomic bomb to the Internet.

And Viper Wine's exploration of the arts practiced on women in the pursuit of beauty and fear of ageing is peppered with equally time-traveling references -- quotes from Naomi Campbell, references to plastic surgery, skin peels and snippets from Wikipedia.

"Having the present day interrupting the historical events just worked," Eyre said. "It’s a baroque novel, so there are all sorts of flourishes and curlicues."

Eyre talked to Reuters:

Q: What first led you to Venetia Digby?   Continued...

Hermione Eyre, author of a book titled "Viper Wine", poses for a picture in her home in London April 10, 2015.  REUTERS/Verity Watkins