Walter Scott Prize longlist: Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre

Article published on March 6, 2015.

Continuing our look at titles in this year’s longlist:

Set in the 17th century court of Charles I but providing a biting satire of modern culture’s obsession with celebrity, beauty and youth, Viper Wine is a vibrant – albeit somewhat odd – mash up of historical fiction and pop art prose.

The story centres on Venetia Stanley, former famed beauty and favoured muse of poets and artists alike. Now married to explorer and alchemist Sir Kenelm Digby, Venetia has begun to see the harsh signs of middle age in her features and has heard rumours of new beauties taking her place at court. Desperate to retain her youth and status, Venetia begs her husband to make her a beauty potion and, when he refuses, becomes drawn towards the mysterious Lancelot Choice and his potent tonic, Viper Wine.

Although this book isn’t something I would usually have chosen, I was drawn into the glittering court of Charles I and the murky intrigues of 17th century political life. Venetia and her doting husband Kenelm are well rounded characters, really allowing the reader to empathise with their fears and desires.

However I didn’t really enjoy the pop art elements of the novel – some of the modern anachronisms seemed unnecessary and, at times, the bombastic prose seems to be more about the author dazzling her readers with a clever style than actively contributing to the plot.

That said, whilst not always my personal cup of tea, ‘Viper Wine’ would be an excellent novel for book groups to discuss with its unusual take on the obsessions of modern culture, well realised historical setting and unique style. Definitely one to get group members talking!

Reviewed by: Amy Blaney – Little Haywood

Personal read:     2

Group read:     5


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