I came across this title, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace, while loafing around in my local Borders this summer. However, having little cash on me and a paycheck not coming for another week, I didn’t get to read this title until I was at school this year. Upon receiving the small ivory volume from the library, I opened the book to be immediately drawn in by the exquisite first paragraph that gives a brilliant impression as to the adventure ahead.
Carey Wallace’s novel recounts Carolina Fatoni’s experiences as realizes that she is slowly losing her sight. Set in Italy, during the 19th Century, the book provides a rich landscape with memorable characters that embrace every fashion from the DaVinci like neighbor and love interest Turri to the narcissistic Romeo turned husband Pietro. The exquisite prose takes place in three primary locations: Carolina’s childhood home, Carolina’s new home with her husband Pietro, and the lake between the two houses, where Carolina and Turri spend most of their time. The fluffy style of the prose makes for an enjoyable light read but at the same time brings about questions about human nature, marriage, and friendship and begs the reader to answer the question: Does love really conquer all?
It is hard to summarize this book well enough without giving away the decadent prose and human connection that Wallace is capable of conveying to the reading. Every word of this novel is important and chosen with care and each scene carefully placed and thought out to advance the storyline. While reading this post, if you’re worrying about the fact that I can’t summarize the plot beyond one paragraph, it is because with such a short novel I don’t find it beneficial to write a summary longer then the plot and as such would like to leave those who choose to read it with something to be desired.
The succinct appearance of the book should not be a turn-off for anyone because in the brief . Though the book is only the size of a five by seven photograph and about an inch in width it is a rich text that I found myself analyzing despite the fact that this was supposed to be a book I would read outside of coursework.
When I started reading, I found myself unsure of what to expect but after Carolina’s marriage, when her blindness slowly started to take over her vision, the novel really hit its stride. Not only was Wallace able to make my sympathize for Carolina but also made me feel ambiguous towards her husband. Depending on the scene she’d constructed I had no idea whether I was supposed to like him or hate him. It wasn’t until I reached the end of her charming narrative that I had formed a solid opinion on him and even then my opinion was turned on his head.
At about halfway through the novel, I also noticed a certain level of Gothic influence playing into Wallace’s plot. Perhaps I’ve been reading a little too much Jane Eyre, but the Gothic trope of a ghost or inexplicable and unseen presence plays a key role once Carolina completely loses her sight and begins exploring the house. Between this similarity and Turri’s DaVinci-like proliferation of various inventions, it is no doubt that this novel would be a remarkable and breezy read for history fanatics.
In the end when I finished reading The Blind Contessa’s New Machine I found myself wishing that the volume was about twice the length. I was hesitant about letting the characters go despite the fact that my opinion kept fluctuating on them from the very beginning. Upon looking back, however, at it, the novel was perfect in its succinct and tender treatment of a real life situation. I felt as if this story could be set in any day and, while the circumstance would be different, the root of the story would essentially be the same. Saying as much I dub The Blind Contessa’s New Machine as one for those who enjoy a profound love story and would like to come away with a deeper understanding of what love is.
Final Grade: A+