Following this shadowy group from the dark environs of London's Bankside to the lively streets of Venice, The Remedy guides us through playhouses, brothels, and convents with luscious details that breathe intoxicating life into the era. Long-listed for the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction, The Remedy is a seductive and suspenseful tale that stays with you long after you've turned the final page.
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The RemedyA Novel
By Michelle Lovric
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Michelle Lovric
All right reserved.
An Anodyne Epithem
Take Brandy 4 ounces; Camphire half a dram; Opium 2 drams, dissolve.
It comforts the Nervous parts, by its warmth appeaseth the raging Spirits, penetrates deep, sets open the Pores, attenuates, dissipates, obtunds the dolorific Matter, and drives it off by Diaphoresis.
I was an unwilling nun, bundled into the convent by a family that had briefly lost its head over a trivial adolescent melodrama. My ultimate crime was such a negligible one that it's not worth the recounting. One day I was the pride and idol of my parents, roaming freely around the family palazzo with my tribe of high-bred she-dogs, having my hair dressed, clowning adorably at my dancing lessons, having my portrait painted. I believe I was a little willful with the artist. That's all. Yet the next day I was in San Zaccaria, which was by way of being our family convent, as at least six unmarriageable aunts had been deposited there and a number of my plainer cousins. At first I thought it just a brief punishment, a warning, some time to cool my heels. There was no problem of conjuring a dowry for me, and I was far from ugly, being a piquant blonde of the kind that precociously detained male attention. But after a few weeks I began to suspect the dreadful truth: that my parents meant to keep me there.
And I realized that it had been in the planning for some time.
I already knew the inside of San Zaccaria all too well. And my parents had every excuse to feel satisfied in their consciences, despite my protests, with this destiny they had thrust on me.
For the nuns had caught me early by my sweet tooth, hanging sugared almonds, balsamic lozenges, and candied fruit in the humid swoop of the orchard branches whenever we went, in my infant days, to visit two or three aunts Catarina, our family's Christian name for girls. No one remarked upon the lovely crop or stopped me snatching jellies from their strings or cracking pink-nubbed nuts against my milk-teeth. So I was free to think that in convents such things grew on trees, whereas at home they must be prayed for. A happy mouth does not forget what once befriended it.
In Venice, the noble dynasties were recorded in our so-called "Golden Book." And each Golden Book family stored its female shadow, like its conscience, in a nunnery: seventeen Contarini at Santa Catarina, a score of Moresini at Spirito Santo, the Balbi at Sant'Andrea de Zirada. And the unwanted Foscarini and Querini women were interred in our own living crypt at San Zaccaria.
At ten, I'd joined the boat when my cousin Paola made her bridal tour of convents, to salute her sisters sealed in chastity. This archaic ritual was long out of fashion, yet my uncle persisted with it, for the sake of the family nuns who loved company and whose isolation was a constant source of inadmissible guilt. They'd been given to God, who asked the merest thousand-ducat dowry, this so my Uncle Paolo could spend thirty thousand on a Gradenigo bridegroom for Paola and a new infusion of old Golden Book blood into his grandchildren.
Her confined cousins blessed Paola with dead eyes, forked almond crescents through the grille into her violable mouth, for while they might feed her, they were not allowed to touch the bride's naked hand. Meanwhile, for me, there were buckwheat wafers thin as hosts but interleaved with honeyed whipped cream, still-smoking fritters brisk with powdered musk and spiced panpepato such as I was not allowed at home.
When I was twelve, the nuns asked me would I like to see the kitchens? A noble girl, I'd never seen one, so why not? Down I went, and there I found such red-cheeked happiness pulling such trays of sweet warmth from gnashing ovens, such lucent bottles of Seville syrups staining the glass of the windows, such a hot and blissful hub of softening, folding, melting, lubricating, rising, turning, glazing, and stacking in painted boxes destined for fine tables that I cried when they made me go home. I wasn't bred for such low labor myself, but I was partial to watching it.
And so I continued to visit San Zaccaria regularly and felt myself at home there. I even boarded at times as a schoolgirl, sleeping in the rooms of my aunts while my desultory education continued in a classroom next to the refectory.
I called on the convent kitchens as a sparrow calls on a bird-table, taking what I wanted and flitting off. No one could bake marzipan cakes like those nuns at San Zaccaria, except perhaps those at Sant'Alvise. Most certainly no one made such frothing chocolate or served it in such elegant caudle cups. I came so often to drink it that a special cup was reserved for me.
It seemed such an agreeable place. One of the loveliest gardens in Venice was San Zaccaria's. Still more pleasing was the orchard, with its delicate swathing of trees. The convent was more like a pleasure house in the country than a fortress for God's brides. Terracotta enfilades laced with arches of white Istrian stone led to two graceful cloisters, one even ornamented with a loggia above. From the door of their cells the nuns saw the church cupola rising above them in harmonious composition with the apse and campanile. Just beyond our southern wall lay the Riva degli Schiavoni and the basin of San Marco: A fresh salt air purified the cloisters even in the summer, though in the winter, being at a low point of the city, they were sometimes briefly transformed into dismal lakes, and, once or twice, into mirrors of ice.
The convent was to the south of the church. At the necessary hours, the nuns filed there quietly and positioned themselves in severely grilled galleries. From behind those grilles they . . .
Excerpted from The Remedy by Michelle Lovric Copyright © 2006 by Michelle Lovric. Excerpted by permission.
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