Sudden death by Álvaro Enrigue
original title – Muerte súbita
Translator – Natasha Wimmer
Source – review copy
Well it is Thursday and this translation Thursday I bring to you all one of the biggest stars in Mexican Lit, in fact part of what we may say is the Power couple of mexican fiction as Alvaro is married to fellow Mexican writer Valerie Luiselli. He has won a number of prizes and one of his books was picked on a list of the best recent books from Mexico .. I have read his book before I brought a copy of Hypothermia which came out a few years ago that was a collection of short stories this is his first novel to be translated into English.
At the collegiate church of Ottery St Mary, under Lacey’s rule, a group of novices had been using at the roofed gallery of the cloister to play matches against townies. In those day tennis was much rougher and noiser than it is today some were attackers, others defenders, there were no nets or lines, and points were won tooth and nail, by slamming the ball into an opening called a dedans. since it was invented by Mediterranean monks, it had redemptive overtones.
The rearly tennis so much different I once saw a court in Oxford for what is now known as Real tennis
Now the shock for you all the book is set of a fictional game of tennis , although this appears to be what we in the uk would call real tennis which is a slightly different game that game before the modern game we know. The match is between the Italian Painter Caravaggio (I mainly know about him from the Derek Jarman film in the 80’s about him ) he is playing the Spanish poet Francesco de Quevedo a quick-witted poet that wrote prose satire and many poems. As the match unfolds in other chapters we travel the world from England with Thomas Cromwell and Henry viii then through to latin america and the dying Aztec empire as they also play a game with the Spaniards there . whilst the two are cheer on from the sidelines by many well-known figures of the time Galileo, Saint Mathew and Mary Magdalene all cheer the two the vulgar Italian painter well-known for his pictures (he did paint the first still life of the modern age in his basket of fruit and the Spanish poet still trying to keep in favour with the royal court of Spain via this match.
Scarcely had Jean Rombaud disembarked at Franciscopolis – such a ridiculous name of the port of Le Harve until the death of King Francis I – before he began to spread the rumour that he was in possession of the darksome braids of Anne Boleyn and the he would make tennis balls with them that would at last gain him entry to the closed courts, where the nobility sweatedt hrough one shirt per game, five per set and fifteen per match. He had always felt that his freshed washed lions mane gave him the right to hardwood and tile: to play for sport rather than money .
I love the story of the ball it is great fun tale one of those odd stories that could be real or could be fake.
I have said before that I hate tennis , well in this case it didn’t matter as the match is just a small framing device to capture two figures that maybe show the world of the time the match is set is in change this is the golden age of discovery, When The world was moving from one age to another even the ball in this story has its own story it is made from the hair of the late Anne Boeyln. Enrique plays with what a novel is this like an earlier novel from Mexico I read By Jorge Volpi , shows how history can be made to serve the present also be caught in one match a duel between two artist to the end as the world around them sees an empire fall a man marry many woman and even the crowd have their stories to tell along the way .Of course with Wimmer translating this book it will of course bring many to connect this to Bolano, but for me they are just two great writers and for me Enrique has maybe more in common with Volpi than Bolano. This is one of those book that defies pigeonholing as a novel one of those that break the mould.
Hve you read anything by Enrique ?