Monday, December 9, 2013

REVIEW: The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction/Love Story
Audience: Adult

Summary:  In 19th century Italy, a young Contessa recognizes that she is losing her eyesight. She tries to tell her fianc√© and parents, but no one believes her. That is, no one with the exception of her friend Turri, a married, eccentric inventor who lives on the estate adjoining her father's. Slowly, images become increasing blurred and distorted until, shortly after her wedding, Carolina finds herself in complete darkness. Yet in her dreams, she see everything in magnificent color, imagining a glorious world of possibility. In her sleep, she finds freedom in glorious adventures but during the day she cannot even walk alone to her beloved lake or pen a letter to a friend. Longing to stay in contact his friend, Turri in turn designs a machine that will help her with the everyday task of communicating with distant friends and family—a writing machine. Somehow, the gift ignites a spark that leads to a passionate, clandestine affair that changes both their lives.

First Line: "On the day Countess Carolina Fantoni was married, only one other living person knew that she was going blind, and he was not her groom."

Tracy's Thoughts: Lush, vivid detail and lyrical prose make this slim novel a truly absorbing read. The description of Carolina's loss of sight and her slow acclimation to her condition are particularly vivid and affecting. Cary Wallace's writing is almost magical at times, evocative and dreamy as she describes the Italian countryside, Carolina's impressions, and others' reactions to her blindness. Though simple, the story too is intriguing. Based on the man who invented the first working typewriter prototype for the blind woman he is rumored to have loved, it weaves a romantic fable around historical events. Throughout the course of the novel, the reader is taken on a journey right along with Carolina, from flashbacks of her courtship with her husband Pietro to her encroaching blindness and impulsive, inevitable affair with Turri.

The focus here is more on tone and character than specific events, though. The characters are well developed yet mysterious, from Carolina herself to secondary characters like Liza, Carolina's odd serving girl who adds small lies and fictions to the stories she reads to Carolina. The ending here is a bit abrupt though not unsatisfying. Instead, it preserves a sense of ethereal mystery that reflects the tone of the rest of the novel. Ultimately, The Blind Contessa's New Machine is an intelligent, whimsical tale that balances tragedy with inspiration and understated humor.

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