Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue – Review & Playlist

Perfect Days by Alvaro Enrigue Riverhead books book review Muse Monthly

It’s like getting drunk with your Art History teacher.

Which, for me, is pretty much exactly what I want in life. You can’t deny that it would be amazing to split a bottle of wine with your former professor and chat about prostitutes that starred in your favorite paintings, corrupted popes, and the secrets of Spanish conquistadors. And then by the end of it, you’re shitfaced and thinking, ‘wait, is this all true?’ This is essentially the experience of reading Sudden Death – and it is quite the experience.

The novel is multi-layered: first, a story of a tennis match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and famed artist Caravaggio (who is my absolute all time favorite, just as a side note) intersperced with the history of tennis as a developing sport; second, an intensely realistic and human history lesson spanning from Italy to Mexico; third, Enrigue’s email’s back and forth with his editor during the writing of this novel. What Enrigue does brilliantly with Sudden Death is blur the line between reality and fiction – you could, if you were that type of reader, read this along with a history textbook or your google search open, and fact check the shit outta this, but I don’t think you really need to. Did de Quevedo vs. Caravaggio really happen? Did Galileo keep score? Does it really matter?

What Enrigue has done is create a novel that reads more like a Samuel Beckett play, that creates this hyper-reality in which things are just a little bit weird and unbelievable, but not too much that the reader is aware of it. He breathes life into these historical names that we typically feel so far away from – and it’s a real, gritty, dirty life, tangible humanity, with all the bumps and brusies and vomit and sex that you could possibly want. At some points, you may ask yourself, ‘why is this so engrossing?’ The answer is, because it’s written with such skill and personality and humor that you can’t help but get caught up in it.

Sudden Death is a really unique novel. It’s an incredible reading experience that cannot be compared to anything else I’ve read before.

And I’m definitely sending a copy to my art history professor so we can grab drinks and talk about Caravaggio.

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