Author: Carey Wallace
Genre: Fiction (literary)
Publisher: Viking/Pamela Dorman (Penguin)
Release Date: July 8, 2010
I'd like to set the tone for this review by quoting the (perfect) first paragraph of this book which immediately hooked me for it's beauty and its appeal. (You can read the entire first page at the author's website as well).
"On the day Contess Carolina Fantoni was married, only one other living person knew that she was going blind, and he was not her groom. This was not because she had failed to warn them. 'I am going blind,' she had blurted to her mother, in the welcome dimness of the family coach, her eyes still bright with tears from the searing winter sun. By this time, her peripheral vision was already gone. Carolina could feel her mother take her hand, but she had to turn to see her face. When she did, her mother kissed her, her own eyes full of pity. 'I have been in love, too,' she said, and looked away." (pg. 1)
The Blind Contessa's New Machine is a charming and elegantly told novel about a young woman, Carolina Fantoni, in 1800's Italy who realizes she is going blind. She exemplifies strong human spirit and courage despite virtually lacking the support most people would find essential to make it through something so drastically life-changing. She tries to tell her loved ones (including her fiance, Pietro), but they're all sadly dismissive of her and think she's making something out of nothing. Only one person really believes and understands her -- her childhood friend, Turri, from whom her mother has warned her against since he is married and it wouldn't be good to start any rumors. Years later Turri, with his predilection for invention and in an act of love, provides Carolina with a writing machine he's created so that she can write and communicate with the world.
This story is based on the true history of one of the first typewriters that was, indeed, made for an Italian woman who was going blind. This unique and compact story is full of such beautiful and lyrical prose that, if for no other reason, it should be savored for the writing alone. And Carey Wallace has such an enchanting style of storytelling with subtle humor (from Pietro's clueless-ness to the widespread jealousy over Carolina's writing machine) and alluring descriptions which are used increasingly as Carolina's sight fades more and more and her memories and dreams take on new significance. Here's an example:
"Silk whispered as it rose from her floor and sighed faintly when put to rest in her wardrobe. Cut-glass bottles of perfumes and cream clanked gently. The panels of her curtains brushed the floor as they were drawn open. Wind poured through the window, bringing with it the memory of the long green slope of the yard. The wind was bitingly cold; Carolina's mind instantly stripped the summer trees of their leaves and blanketed the gardens with snow." (pg. 82)
And in another example of her writing, this is a description of how enamored the girls are over a young Pietro.
"A girl could live for weeks on a single glance from him. His small compliments and offhand remarks formed a new scripture, and in breathless conversations and lonely, dream-drunk nights they built whole theologies from them. Any real attention paid to one girl -- two dances in an evening, a flower broken from a bush to decorate her dress -- was liable to elicit tears or bitter jealousy from the others, and in one case, a fit of fainting, although Pietro seemed blissfully unaware of the reason for the scuffle even as the unfortunate girl's father and brother carried her from the party. He thereby revealed a lack of self-consciousness about his own powers that only further endeared him to both the ladies and his friends." (pg. 25)
Throughout the course of The Blind Contessa's New Machine, the reader is taken on a journey with Carolina. In addition to being blind, Carolina deals with romance and a love triangle involving a passionate affair and a love that is, over time, unrequited on her part. The storytelling was intelligent and there was more to the story than what was on the surface -- though I have to admit there were moments when it went over my head... but that's due to fault of my own and not any of the author, and at least I recognized that. =)
The Blind Contessa's New Machine is a beautiful example of literary fiction that will find a place in your heart from the first paragraph. Check out this page on the author's website to see a copy of one of the first letters written on this real life typewriter as well as other information about herself and the book.
The publisher has generally provided 3 copies of this book for giveaway! If you would like to enter for a copy of The Blind Contessa's New Machine please enter your name in the form below. You do not have to be a follower of the blog... however, the winner will be announced here on the blog (not through e-mail) so at least keep an eye out. ;) The winner will have 48 hours to contact me with their address.
U.S. Addresses only please for this giveaway. The winner will be announced on July 22, 2010.