Of Love And Evil by Anne Rice
Chatto & Windus $38.99
Confession time: I'd never read anything by Anne Rice before this. For a while, I thought she was another name for Stephenie Meyer. She's not (of course), but she could be.
Her protagonist, Toby O'Dare, is the tormented young man every teenager yearns to be or to save. His family is a tad dysfunctional; his mum murdered his brother.
He's been torn apart from his One True Love. On working days, he's Lucky the Fox, contract assassin for a good cause.
This is the second of a series, after Toby's adventure in medieval England. His mission this time sees him flicked by the angel Malchiah to Renaissance Italy, where he must help a Jewish doctor whose residence is home to a furniture-slinging ghost and who is accused of trying to murder a patient with caviar. Yes, you read correctly.
After a strolling start, while Toby shows his "radiant flower" of a lady love and his son with the "clearest simplest eyes" a bit of the West, the story starts belting along through Rome at the time of Pope Pius X, when Michelangelo is "wearied from the accomplishment of his great chapel ceiling".
I really do have to keep quoting Rice; her style is matchless.
Dressed in fine rolled velvet and carrying a lute, intermittently assisted by two heavenly assistants, one of whom prefers a simple dark suit with narrow lines, Toby plunges into puzzles and pantings, hauntings and huffings.
The dreaded Purple Death features. So does a bit of 21st century self-defence, a double-agent angel and a discourse on Savonarola. A sequel is unsubtly indicated.
You couldn't call Rice a writer. Her style clanks like a concrete mixer. "(T)he lineaments of his face ... your soul is rent ... suddenly the old tears returned, and with them a deep and genuine and exhausting pain." That's all on the one page (70, should you wish to avoid).
She's also a great dispenser of aphorisms. "The child must yield to the man"; "Ah, what broken creatures we are"; "God is in every molecule of every thing that exists".
Are these pearls of wisdom? Or just grains of Rice?
Ignore my carpings. Have fun with the inflated adjectives: "great ... endless ... irresistible ... vast ... seamless" - all in the first six lines.
And with the mannered repetitions, the gratuitous capital letters, the archaisms, the inversions, the dialogue apparently written by an android.
Go "awww" at the cosy Christian urgings. Approve the tone of tolerance. Admire the wardrobe details.
Rice has found a perfect form: undemanding, over-wrought, cod-romantic, Disney-dark, antiseptically sexual. She's a huge success. Bless her and all who declaim, brood, avenge and posture with her.
David Hill is a Taranaki writer.