An exhilarating tale of lust, love and magical transformations of the heart during ten years of the Napoleonic Wars, first published in England in 1987. Three of four sections of this slim, crisp, dreamy novel are narrated by Henri, a young French foot-soldier whom Napoleon chooses over a fat cook one fateful day in 1805 to be the keeper of his personal larders as the French army begins its forced march east to the ""zero"" Russian winter of defeat: the third section is told by Villanelle, a cardsharp in conquered Venice whose marriage to (and betrayal of) a grotesquely fat, sinister foreign gambler ends in her being sold to Napoleon's officer corps as a traveling whore. In Russia, she and Henri meet as the French army is collapsing and the Russian countryside is erupting in flames; with Patrick, a wildly visionary defrocked Irish priest, they flee, making their way back to Venice. Patrick dies in the cold: Henri falls in love with Villanelle, whose marriage to the fat gambler (as well as a previous love affair with a queenlike Venetian matron) causes trouble for both of them once they reach Villanelle's old home. Henri is dispatched by gondolier to steal back Villanelle's living heart from the palazzo of ""the Queen of Spades,"" and having replaced it in her breast, murders her fat husband (the cook whom he bested in France) to keep it there. Then he goes mad, and, like Napoleon himself, is locked away in an island prison to contemplate his ""passion,"" and Napoleon's and human kind's, evermore, while Villanelle rows below daily in a boat. The moral: One doesn't know what he or she loves best until it has been risked in a final, deadly gamble--by a fascinating, Robertson Davies-like writer in full possession of her considerable powers here.
Pub Date: May 27, 1988
Page Count: -
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown