Cover image for The merciful women
The merciful women
Andahazi, Federico, 1963-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Piadosas. English
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
188 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
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A retelling of the birth of the Gothic novel explores the events inside a Swiss villa in the summer of 1816, when Percy and Mary Shelley, Mary's sister, and Lord Byron engaged in a Gothic novel writing contest.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Andahazi, Argentina's most controversial novelist and author of the sly and erotic The Anatomist (1998), brings his devilish satire to the world of literature. In a deliciously Gothic opening scene, a dark and stormy night in 1816, Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, Mary's stepsister, and Byron's "obscure and despised" secretary, John Polidori, a character of Andahazi's invention, take up residence in a Swiss villa. Mary Shelley is about to write her masterpiece, Frankenstein, but in Andahazi's arch retelling, hers isn't the only Gothic novel born to the music of thunder and lightning. Polidori, too, dreams of literary glory, but his pen is dry until a mysterious female correspondent offers him a bizarre but irresistible bargain. Their letters launch a gothically ribald tale of triplet sisters, two beauties and one well-read monster, who live on the "sweet elixir" of life, which only men can provide. Andahazi's take on the vagaries of literature is clever and right-on, and his teasing use of a classic male fantasy as a weapon in the war between the sexes is quite a high-wire act. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Argentine writer Andahazi (The Anatomist) fictionalizes, tongue in cheek, the legendary beginnings of the gothic novel in this slender, winningly erudite volume. In the Swiss Alps, where Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, Mary's stepsister and Lord Byron live in the summer of 1816, the writers contend with the ambitions of John Polidori, Byron's gloomy secretary, who winds up shocking everyone with the first masterful gothic tale, The Vampyre, but only because he's struck a Faustian deal with a devilish woman. Arch, but never smug or precious, Andahazi's tale centers on the disgruntled Polidori, a brooding, self- important scrap of a man who feels "a delicious pleasure in self-pity," and whose foul mood only improves when he receives a strange series of missives, penned by an enigmatic pariah who refers to herself as Annette Legrand. Readers swiftly learn that Annette is a hideously misshapen but preternaturally intelligent freak of nature, formed from the membranous excrescence that linked her two sisters, Colette and Babette, in utero. Vampirishly dependent upon "the essential fluid that only... men possess," Annette has heretofore relied upon her gorgeous sisters' seductions to provide her with sustenance. Now desperate for the "elixir" that her aging siblings can no longer easily obtain, Annette suggests a bizarre arrangement to the ambitious, fame-seeking Polidori: if he provides her with his seed, she will provide him with an unpublished manuscript of rare depth and inventiveness, which he can pass off as his own creation. Written entirely in a cleverly modulated mock-Gothic style, encompassing references from Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold-Bug to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Andahazi's well-researched tale succeeds as an elegant, clever deconstruction of authorship, imagination and the writing process. This is a short, tricky novel, peopled almost exclusively by broadly limned caricatures and with a plot hinging on a few well-placed double-crosses. As a piece of mock-scholarly, wickedly ironic entertainment, it is an utter delight. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Andahazi, the best-selling Argentine author of The Anatomist, brings his readers another raucous exploration of sensuality and sexuality. The framing characters are familiar enough: Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley, and Mary's stepsister are spending summer 1816 in a Swiss villa, where each vies to write the best vampire story. But the most terrifying story is not of any of these brilliant writers but of John Polidori, Byron's resentful secretary, who makes a pact of sorts with the devil in order to achieve his literary ambitions. Poor Polidori, of course, gains neither fame nor fortune but descends into orgies, opium, and madness. Andahazi's adult tale of literary creation is as darkly humorous and grim as any early 19th-century Gothic novel. This translation of Las Piadosas is appropriate for large collections.DMary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.