Sudden Death: A Novel
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"Splendid" —New York Times
"[A] novel without boundaries." —O, the Oprah Magazine
"Mind-bending." —Wall Street Journal
A daring, kaleidoscopic novel about the clash of empires and ideas, told through a tennis match in the sixteenth century between the radical Italian artist Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, played with a ball made from the hair of the beheaded Anne Boleyn.
The poet and the painter battle it out in Rome before a crowd that includes Galileo, Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw the world into flames. In England, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII execute Anne Boleyn, and her crafty executioner transforms her legendary locks into those most-sought-after tennis balls. Across the ocean in Mexico, the last Aztec emperors play their own games, as the conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mayan translator and lover, La Malinche, scheme and conquer, fight and f**k, not knowing that their domestic comedy will change the course of history. In a remote Mexican colony a bishop reads Thomas More’s Utopia and thinks that it’s a manual instead of a parody. And in today’s New York City, a man searches for answers to impossible questions, for a book that is both an archive and an oracle.
Álvaro Enrigue’s mind-bending story features assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bawdy criminals, carnal liaisons and papal schemes, artistic and religious revolutions, love and war. A blazingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Enrigue tells the grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era, breaking down traditions and upending expectations, in this bold, powerful gut-punch of a novel.
Game, set, match.
“Sudden Death is the best kind of puzzle, its elements so esoteric and wildly funny that readers will race through the book, wondering how Álvaro Enrigue will be able to pull a novel out of such an astonishing ball of string. But Enrigue absolutely does; and with brilliance and clarity and emotional warmth all the more powerful for its surreptitiousness.”
—Lauren Groff, New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furies
"Engrossing... rich with Latin and European history." —The New Yorker
"[A] bawdy, often profane, sprawling, ambitious book that is as engaging as it is challenging.” —Vogue
Magdalene, played by a strikingly lovely and spirited model, was holding the mirror of vanity in a hand with a crooked finger. The world turned upside down, he said. Martha sat down next to Saint Matthew—an old cock among falcons—as if to calm the flurry that she and her friend had roused in the gallery. Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene, as defiant in the piazza as in her painted role of saint brought low by life, remained standing by the railing: her ass cocked, her cleavage a declaration of war. When
them. He would already have drunk his cup of chocolate, the only luxury he allowed himself. Someone must have been sent to ask him what to do with the madman who was outside with a horrible painting. If Giustiniani was in the courtyard, it would likely have been one of the cooks who reached him with the news: A dreadful sight. The painting or the madman? Both, but especially the painting. Give him something to eat; let him leave the thing in the kitchen. And he must have hurried to the studiolo
and felt the satanic serves and returns in his flesh. According to his testimony, the match was particularly torturous because—as everyone knows—demons have steel fingernails and never trim them. The fact that the first written account of a tennis game describes an eschatological battle recounted from the perspective of someone called Petrus I, pope of an alternative church of condemned men and killers, a church of ball and racket, is one of the little bones that history occasionally throws us.
rules: if the ball is heading straight for the dedans, you can stop it however you like and the game is yours. The poet raised his eyebrows. Mine? Only madmen play the dedans. If I obstruct that ball it’ll break my arm. Block it with your back. The dedans is too high for that. Exasperated, the duke said: Just win, no matter how you do it. Tenez! He got the serve right: strong and at the corner. Impossibly, the artist reached it and hit another drive that was clearly going into the dedans.
the Spaniard, and the slice with which it was returned brought a moment of light to the court. Against the odds and perhaps the laws of gravity, the poet reached the ball as it bounced just inside the cord. His stroke was sound, but not forceful enough to win the point. He ran back, imagining that the artist would aim for the dedans; his guess was right. Then he covered the corners as if it were no work at all, his opponent peppering him with bullets, each harder, straighter, and deadlier than