Friday, 2 March 2012

Hunger's Brides

Hunger's Brides: A Novel of the BaroqueHunger's Brides: A Novel of the Baroque by Paul Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The word 'magisterial' is more often used when referring to non-fiction works of great scope and comprehensiveness but it totally fits Hunger's Brides. Anderson weaves together past and present in this novel about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the real-life brilliant poet-scientist-philosopher who lived in 17th century Mexico, and ran afoul of the Inquisition and the leaders of the Church who were confounded by the intelligence of this "weaker vessel." In a time when women were not expected to be much more than decorative objects, their interests confined solely to domestic concerns, Sor Juana's mastery of Latin and logic and her defense of science and of the rights of the native people put her at odds with both Church and State. Hunger's Bride is also about the modern-day brilliant graduate student, Beulah Lismoneros, who becomes obsessed with Sor Juana but who has her own demons to fight and whose trip to Mexico in search of Sor Juana ends badly in a way reminiscent of The Sheltering Sky. Beulah's story is told partly in the first person and partly from the perspective of the university professor whose affair with her results in his fall from grace.

It was interesting reading this at the same time as 72 Hour Hold in which we get a mother's perspective on her daughter's mental illness because, in Hunger's Brides, we hear directly from Beulah who is also troubled by bipolar disorder. (Can't remember if that was the exact diagnosis given but she had a lot of the behavior patterns exhbited by Campbell's Trina.)

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