Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre

The book

Viper Wine is about Venetia (née Stanley) Digby, who lives in 17th century with her husband Kenelm Digby, and her two sons. The book is based on the real Venetia Digby who was known as quite a beauty in her time, who had poetry written about her and paintings painted by the biggest and best painters of the time. This fictionalised version of her life is about her seeing that she has begun to age, because she’s a human. And she starts to take the most extreme measures to avoid aging. She meets a man named Lancelot Choice who sells her viper wine, which makes her look young and fresh and those great things.

Thoughts

First of all, Hermione Eyre has the coolest names of all time. I thought it was a pseudonym, but it’s not, it’s great. Anyway.

I thought this concept was really interesting. I didn’t know about Venetia Digby, because I can’t know everything about every English nobleman. But I don’t think you need to know much about her, or her husband. I did look into him a bit, because I thought the story was interesting. He was the son of one of the men in the gunpowder plot, which is also quite fascinating. His wife was known to be an amazing beauty, and she died mysteriously when she was in her mid-thirties. And she actually had an autopsy performed on her, which wasn’t too common at the time.

It was interesting to read about 17th century beauty regimens. What Venetia and the other women do is basically 17th century Botox. Their faces become stiff and frozen and her husband at one point says that he can’t pick her out in a crowd. He keeps seeing a bunch of women who look the same, and he isn’t sure where Venetia is until she waves at him.

The book has quotes at the beginning of chapters and they are often from people who actually lived in the 1600s, but a lot were also from people who live in 2017, and who are in the beauty industry, like models and actors, and the like. Kenelm Digby is a scientist and explorer and he has “press conferences” where current journalists, including the author, interview him. I thought this was a really interesting way to show how beauty is still something we obsess over today, and something women in particular do as much as possible to remain beautiful.

It was interesting to see how Lancelot Choice basically got the ladies he worked with addicted to his concoction. I think there’s opium in the viper wine, so they’re actually addicts, and I thought it was an interesting way to show people getting sort of addicted to their beauty regimes. That’s sort of an obnoxious thing to say, but I think that when you do something enough times you feel sort of naked without the beauty thing you do, and it feels like you should do it.

Finally

I really liked it, I liked how the women hid all their beauty regimens and their makeup from the men in their lives and the men are just clueless and dumb. I liked that it brought the 17th century and 21st century together and how some things haven’t really changed so much. I liked Eyre’s voice and her writing. I thought it was really fun.

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