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Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

Sudden Death

by Alvaro Enrigue

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (10)  Spanish (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Super weird, but always entertaining. Not since reading American Tabloid by james Ellroy have I been forced to Google so many of the characters in a novel to discover if they were real or not. The storytelling is a little stop-start and the timeline is utterly jumbled, which can be challenging, but the overall effect s perfectly charming. There is also some remarkable breaking of the fourth wall by the novelist which emphasized the playfulness of the whole thing. Uncategorizable, but a delight nonetheless. ( )
  asxz | Mar 13, 2019 |
If you think you won't like this book because it's 'experimental' in the sense of not having a linear plot and being meta, set that aside and give it a try. For me this book hit so many fantastic notes - juicy characters, biting satire, sly humor, and underneath it all an absurdist pessimism toward human nature and history that doesn't quite slip into nihilism. The structure of the book - the jumping between the stories and the author's direct conversation with the reader - made it even more of a page-turner for me, I couldn't wait to return to all the story lines. The translator does an amazing job. Here's a couple of quotes that give a flavor of the author's voice - and are just as applicable to the 21st century as the 16th.

Describing Hernando Cortes: “...he wasn’t just Europe’s greatest celebrity but the prince of all those who fuck things up without realizing it. He’s the lord of the fight pickers, the litigious, those who can never acknowledge their own success; the captain of all those who win an impossible battle only to believe that it’s the first of many and then sink in their own shit with sword raised.”

Speaking to the reader: “There are few better illustrations of how a whole host of people can manage to understand absolutely nothing, act in an impulsive and idiotic way, and still drastically change the course of history.” ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
Book was over my head - cannot award it a rating.
  triphopera | Apr 14, 2018 |
Rome, 1599. The painter Caravaggio and the poet Francisco de Quevedo are playing three sets of real tennis as a result of a challenge issued for reasons neither can quite recall, which must have had something to do with the number of bottles of grappa consumed last night. Their seconds are a well-known Pisan mathematician(!) and the Duke of Osuna, respectively, and the spectators in the gallery include some Roman low-life figures who have served as models for Caravaggio's most famous canvases.

That's the sort of premise for an historical novel that is hard to resist in anyone's hands, and it only gets more intriguing when we discover that Enrigue is not only telling us about the match and the players, but also brings in a lot of background about the cultural history of ball-games (there are a lot of balls in this book: knowing the way Spanish idiom works, you can be sure that not all of them are going to be the sort used in games) and a parallel story about Hernan Cortés and the conquest of Mexico. And a few other things...

This isn't a book you can sum up easily, and Enrigue clearly doesn't want it to be something you can reduce to a single key idea. The idea he playfully suggests when he asks himself what the book is all about, some 3/4 of the way in, is that history is all about the bad guys winning, but I don't think we're meant to take this as limiting. In many ways, the book reminded me of the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier and his theory that the baroque way of seeing the world was only made possible by European contact with America: Enrigue also wants us to see the possible Mexican influences on Caravaggio's painting (and remind us that the Mexicans also had their own ball-game rituals...).

Fun, and definitely a book to keep your mind agile, which I really enjoyed despite my normal antipathy to ball games of all kinds. I suspect that the real-life Quevedo, combative though he was, would have been somewhat averse to ball games too, with his notorious short sight and bad leg. But that's probably something we have to allow Enrigue under the heading of poetic licence.

I'm the sort of person who has trouble remembering the rules of modern lawn tennis; 16th century real tennis is infinitely more confusing, especially since the usual terminology of the game as played at Hampton Court or in Merton Street is mostly derived from obsolete French words, not always a good basis for following blow-by-blow descriptions in Spanish, but that doesn't really seem to matter much. This isn't a book about who wins and who loses, at that level. ( )
1 vote thorold | Jan 12, 2018 |
Carlo Borromeo annihilated the Renaissance by turning torture into the only way to practice Christianity. He was declared a saint the instant he died. Vasco de Quiroga saved a whole world single-handedly and died in 1565, and the process of his canonization has yet to begin. I don't know what this book is about. I know that as I wrote it I was angry because the bad guys always win. Maybe all books are written simply because in every game the bad guys have the advantage and that is too much to bear.

Describing what Alvaro Enrigue's odd novel is about is a thankless task. After all, when the author himself admits to not knowing what the book is about, how can the hapless reader (and I was very hapless) hope to write a tidy review? Sudden Death is structured around a sixteenth century tennis game between the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and the Italian artist Caravaggio. The novel ranges back and forth in time, from Hernán Cortés and the conquest of the Aztec kingdom to the Renaissance, amplified by comments and asides from the author, himself. There are tidbits on the history of tennis, a ton of history unfamiliar to this American reader and character studies of de Quevedo and Caravaggio. It's all very fabulous and unsettling.

It took me a while to settle into the rhythms and frenetic pace of this novel, but once I was there, I enjoyed it tremendously. It's a profane and heretical romp that leaves no historical figure unscathed. I had no doubt of Enrique's fierce wit or deep knowledge of the people and times he was writing about.

The popes of the Counter-Reformation were serious men, intent on their work, with little trace of worldliness. They put people to death in volume, preferably slowly and before an audience, but always after a trial. They were thoroughly nepotistic and they trafficked in influence as readily as one wipes one's nose on a cold day, but they had good reason: only family could be trusted, because if a pope left a flank exposed, any subordinate would slit his throat without trial. They had no mistresses or children; they wore sackcloth under their vestments; they smelled bad. They were great builders and tirelessly checked to see that not a single breast appeared in a single painting in any house of worship. They believed in what they did. ( )
3 vote RidgewayGirl | Apr 4, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alvaro Enrigueprimary authorall editionscalculated
Thorburn, AnnakarinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wimmer, NatashaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Mort subite est une époustouflante satire postmoderne qui, à travers un improbable match de tennis opposant le poète Quevedo au Caravage, rebat les cartes de l'histoire pour mieux éclairer nos vacillements contemporains.
Le 4 octobre 1599, à midi tapante, sur les cours de tennis de la Plaza Navona, le poète Miguel Angel de Quevedo et Le Caravage s'apprête à défendre leur honneur à coups de raquettes. L'un est un poète espagnol, voyou et criminel à ses heures, dont les vers traverseront les siècles. L'autre est le plus prisé des peintres de Rome. A lui seul, il a posé les fondements de l'art moderne. Le Caravage mène une vie dissipée, et ne tardera pas lui aussi à basculer vers le crime.
Les trois sets de leur match de tennis-duel et le mystère qui entoure les véritables raisons de leur querelle forment le c ur du roman kaleïdoscopique d'Alvaro Enrigue : des destins mêlés de Cortès et de l'Empire Aztèque aux cruels errements matrimoniaux d'Henry VIII en passant par les secrets de la papauté, et les vies dissolues de nos deux duellistes, Mort Subite explore ce moment charnière de l'histoire, la Renaissance, à travers le prisme le plus inattendu et original qui soit : cette fièvre nouvelle qui s'est emparé du monde, le tennis.
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A 1599 Roman tennis match between the Italian painter Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Quevedo represents the way the world changed in their times, in a novel that goes from the execution of Anne Boleyn to Mexico after the conquest.

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