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Sudden Death

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  2,377 ratings  ·  400 reviews
A daring, kaleidoscopic novel about the clash of empires and ideas in the sixteenth century that continue to reverberate throughout modernity—a story unlike anything you’ve ever read before.
Sudden Death begins with a brutal tennis match that could decide the fate of the world. The bawdy Italian painter Caravaggio and the loutish Spanish poet Quevedo battle it out before
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 9th 2016 by Riverhead Books (first published November 2013)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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Jim Fonseca
Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

A book that’s hard to classify but I think it’s mostly a historical novel told in vignettes more-or-less tied in with the history of early tennis. Mostly the time frame is during the Renaissance, lets say the 1400’s and 1500’s, and the counter-reformation of the mid-1500’s. Tennis and tennis balls and tennis slippers are frequently mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Human hair used to be used to stuff tennis balls. The story starts off with a man named Rombaud, suppo
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the best book I've read in years. An indictment, history, and hope. Caravaggio in a tennis match with a Spanish poet. A tennis ball made from Anne Boleyn's hair. The savage diplomacy of Hernán Cortés. A mitre of feathers for the Pope made by the recently conquered natives of the Americas. These are all things that happened in this book, but it's not what it's about. This is a book about today. It's a book about how our past and the choices we make today affect our now and future. It's a ...more

I have felt like a tennis ball while reading this unclassifiable novel. My attention, my head, was bopping from Tenochtitlan, during the 1530s, to Piazza Navona, around 1599, where another ball game was taking place between the painter Michelangelo Merisi from Caravaggio in Lombardy, and Francisco de Quevedo, the poet from the Spanish Golden Age. And back to Tenochtitlan. Back to Navona. Sometimes the ball fell in London, where the scaffold for Anne Boleyn was ready. Although the bouncing ball o
Lee Klein
Jan 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
I'm happy to have had the opportunity to read this in advance and interview the author. Generally, it's a great, beguiling book -- like a mystery novel, its far-flung parts come together over time via the life-changing magic of an assertion of associative intelligence. (The author also states what's up at times, too.) Felt after a while like sitting mid-court watching a ball zip back and forth across time and space. A po-mo literary entertainment with sharp hermeneutical knives up its sleeves. A ...more
Amazing writing. Amazing. And great translation by Natasha Wimmer.

This is powerful writing about art, religion, opposites, transitions, the Spanish conquest of Mexico, love, politics, and conflict. In only 260 pages Enrigue creates a multi-dimensional web of time and place. He peoples it with many famous people and works of art and literature. He hangs these on a framework of a tennis match between Caravaggio and Quevedo, artist and poet. In between each game's points we are whisked away to inha
Mar 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Antonomasia by: Caroline; Lee
[4.5] With its scenes of Caravaggio and Spanish poet Quevedo playing a hungover tennis match (using a ball stuffed with Anne Boleyn’s hair) in lieu of a duel over some slight no-one can remember, Counter-Reformation popes scheming and receiving gifts of exquisite iridescent New World featherwork, and Cortés and Malinalli (La Malinche) in bed, and an attempt to create Utopia which more or less worked, resorting to synopsis is the most obviously attention-grabbing ways to open a review of this boo ...more
Nov 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, translation
it's no coincidence that when speaking of someone's death in mexico we say he "hung up his tennis shoes," that he "went out tennis shoes first." we are who we are, unfixable, fucked. we wear tennis shoes. we fly from good to evil, from happiness to responsibility, from jealousy to sex. souls batted back and forth across the court. this is the serve.
the second of álvaro enrigue's works to be translated into english (after his short story collection, hypothermia), sudden death (muerte súbita)
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mexican, art, top-10-2019
I’m not exactly sure what I just read; but that’s okay because the author doesn’t know either:

As I write, I don’t know what this book is about.

Hah! I told you. Although, in the first instance anyhow, it’s about a tennis match.

It’s not exactly about a tennis match.

Hey, stop that!

Maybe it’s just a book about how to write this book; maybe that’s what all books are about. A book with a lot of back-and-forth, like a game of tennis.

Be that as it may, there is a tennis match that takes the whole book t
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
About 30 pages into this book, I wasn't entirely sure what was happening, but I decided to accept that feeling and buckle up for the ride. And what a ride it was! Sudden Death describes a fictional tennis match between the Italian painter, Caravaggio, and the Spanish poet, Francisco Quevedo. Interspersed between the games are snippets from historical texts, emails with his editor, and storylines featuring other prominent historical figures, such as Hernán Cortés and Vasco de Quiroga. Like the te ...more
Mar 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Quite erudite, and some lovely tidbits about various things that do interest me quite a lot - tales of New World first encounters, Caravaggio, Anne Boleyn. But don't believe people who say it's not about tennis. There's a lot of tennis. And I like tennis. But I don't, really don't, ever want to read a play by play account of a tennis match, even if it's the most amazingly hungover burlesque historically fanciful tennis match ever. I also found the book more than a little annoying when it parades ...more
Vit Babenco
Jun 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
Álvaro Enrigue told me many new things about tennis although I’m not sure I needed to know them.
I’ve got an impression that he had very little to say so he turned Sudden Death into a collection of trivial facts, irrelevant fillers, cock-and-bull allegations and superficial lies.
“Without removing his gaze from their enticing skirts, the duke ran through the images he retained of the previous night. These two hadn’t been at the brothel or the tavern. It took him a while to pinpoint where he’d seen
lark benobi
The novel begins by telling you nothing in it is true:

the only real things in a novel are the sequences of letters, words, and sentences that make it up, and the paper on which they're printed.

But what follows is told in a tone that mimics the tone of a popular history book. Never mind that the historic characters who appear in this novel are set into scenes of great ridiculousness-- history itself is ridiculous series of unlikely events, isn't it?--so as I read sentence after sentence of impla
Mar 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: poc-author
Maybe closer to a 2.5 stars? This is a book that I don't think I can really appreciate because I know I didn't get it all. Plus I lack the historical knowledge to truly get everything he is talking about and referencing. That being said, it still was kind of fun to read? The writing is great and the book can be kind of funny at times, but it was hard for me to really grasp the bigger picture. It felt a little bit like I just rode a roller coaster, while a fun little ride, I don't think I have an ...more
Feb 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
"As I write, I don't know what this book is about." -the author, on p. 203 and me both. I wanted so much to like this book (or, hell, at least to understand it), but it was just not my cup of tea. I was intrigued by the premise - a fictional tennis match between the Italian painter Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Quevedo at the end of the sixteenth century serves as a framing device for a novel that's part alternative history, part historical fiction, and part present-day rumination on
Book Riot Community
Sudden Death, That's right, this is a fantastic, bizarre novel of tennis being played in history, with scores of appearances by famous historical figures (and a tennis ball made of Anne Boleyn's hair). It's chock full of history, crime, lust, scheming, and mind-bending story lines. This book is so unusual, but totally worth the wacky trip!

Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books:
I suspected the awful disjointedness of this novel would garner praise (it's so bold!), and I was right.

From World Literature Today:
"The Spanish invasion of the New World, the tumultuous life of Caravaggio, the death of Anne Boleyn, and the erotic escapades of notorious conquistador Hernán Cortés are revised and woven into an intricate, inextricable tapestry. With apparent effortlessness, Enrigue fuses together ostensibly discordant narratives, fashioning a riveting, hilarious, and insightful r
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spanish-lit, fiction
I picked up ‘Sudden Death’ in the library thanks to a display with little cards carrying personal recommendations. The one propped against this novel promised that it was ‘very funny’ and ‘like nothing you’ve read before’. Halfway in, I was sceptical about both these claims and I remain dubious of the latter. In fact, ‘Sudden Death’ has strong similarities to several novels I’ve read before. Structurally, it’s a lot like Binet’s HHhH, what with all the metatextual elements, and thematically it r ...more
Jim Coughenour
Álvaro Enrigue bounces his readers around like a hair-filled tennis ball, tossing together every manner of historical source, fictive or actual it hardly matters. There are moments of blistering nihilism, aesthetic and political ruminations, feathered luminous objets d'art and a few scenes made me laugh out loud. (The carnal congress between Caravaggio and Galileo – well, let's just say it's nonpareil.) A wicked delightful book. ...more
Well, this book was certainly different. It is not your traditional novel, that's for sure! Through the device of a tennis game (not tennis as we now know it!) between Caravaggio (the Italian painter) and Francisco de Quevedo (a Spanish poet). While I am familiar with Caravaggio, a favorite painter, I had to look up the Spanish poet, who turns out to be considered a Spanish literature master. The seconds (this was a duel) were also pretty famous -- Pedro Téllez-Girón, 3rd Duke of Osuna, and Gali ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jun 26, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish
The good news is that I am getting better at sensing when books are not my style. I hadn't planned to read this one but picked it up anyway because of a reading group. This might be for you; it was not for me. ...more
Paul Fulcher
May 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Reposting as his interview with Daniel Kehlmann reminded me of the similarity of this novel to TyllL

"As I write, I don’t know what this book is about. It’s not exactly about a tennis match. Nor is it a book about the slow and mysterious integration of America into what we call “the Western world” - an outrageous misapprehension since, from an American perspective, Europe is the East. Maybe it’s just a book about how to write this book; maybe that’s what a
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites-6, tob17
(seeing as I've not stopped thinking about this book since I read it several months ago, I'm bumping this up from a 5+ to a 6.)

Let's get one thing straight: it’s not an easy read. Enrigue bounces (get it? because it’s a book [partially] about tennis?) between a fictional tennis match, real history, fictional interpretations of real history, the present day, and no fewer than two continents and seven countries. And it does zoom around, hopping from thought to thought without much warning. But his
Tensy (bookdoyen)
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I will never look at the game of tennis the same way again. My daughter played competitive tennis for many years, and I never really knew the history of the game. Not that reading this novel will gain you much knowledge in terms of modern tennis. Imagine a tennis game played circa 1600 by a famous Spanish poet (Quevedo) and an Italian painter (Caravaggio) and the ball they are playing with is made from Ann Boleyn's hair, taken at her beheading by her executioner. This small novel is disorienting ...more
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you think you won't like this book because it's 'experimental' in the sense of not having a linear plot and being meta, set that aside and give it a try. For me this book hit so many fantastic notes - juicy characters, biting satire, sly humor, and underneath it all an absurdist pessimism toward human nature and history that doesn't quite slip into nihilism. The structure of the book - the jumping between the stories and the author's direct conversation with the reader - made it even more of ...more
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
These facts were confusing in their own time, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be confusing in a novel that doesn’t aspire to accurately represent that time, but does want to present it as a theory about the world we live in today.”

Oddly enough, I really enjoyed this weird little book. It a pseudo-history of tennis, it is about the Counter-Reformation, it is a biography of Caravaggio, it is about things made of human hair and feathers, it is about the European conquest of Mexico. This
Jul 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015, 5-star
The premise of this novel (the first of Enrigue's novels to be translated into English) may, to less adventurous readers, sound bizarre. In Sudden Death, the Spanish poet Quevedo and the Italian painter Caravaggio play a tennis match to settle a duel. From this surprising and surprisingly fecund start, Sudden Death spins out to tell the story of Cortes's conquest of Mexico, a brief history of the Counter-Reformation, and various other topics that Enrigue, whose plotting is a beauty to behold, ma ...more
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In many ways it reminded me of Moby-Dick: the short, paratactical chapters; the blurring of the line between fiction and non-fiction; the use of metaphor; the sense of inquiry and need to understand. It starts by depicting a tennis match between the artist Caravaggio and a Spanish poet, Francisco de Quevedo, and branches off from there to explore the Counter-Reformation and the conquest of Mexico, taking in art, history, religion, utopias, beauty, power, brutality and injustice.

It's erudite, sex
Jan 26, 2016 rated it liked it
(3.5) I'm just not a big fan of novel/nonfiction/essay hybrids, especially with meta elements in which the author inserts himself (although I did like his comparison of Caravaggio's entrance to the art world to his experience of seeing HD television). The focus of the re-dreamt history was often intriguing, especially when moments overlapped across oceans to create their own metaphor. Terence Malick could adapt this and wouldn't need to change a thing. ...more
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: rooster-2017
For me this book is like two people fighting over a remote control. One person wants to watch tennis on ESPN2, the other wants to watch the history channel, neither ends up satisfied.
Ben Loory
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Caravaggio's name or lack of a name is so important that Peter Robb, one of his most painstaking biographers, doesn't dare to name him in the book he wrote about him. It is titled M: The Man Who Became Caravaggio, because no document exists to prove that as a child he bore the name he claimed as an adult: Michelangelo Merisi. It's a fact that his father's last name was the Milanese Merixio, and that he changed it to the Roman Merisi when he began to sell paintings; it's likely that his name was ...more
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Escritor, editor y crítico literario nacido en México D. F. en 1969. Álvaro Enrigue ha pasado su vida entre el Distrito Federal y Washington D.C. Fue durante un tiempo profesor de Literatura en la Universidad Iberoamericana y de Escritura Creativa en la de Maryland. Desde 1990 se dedica a la crítica literaria, y ha colaborado en revistas y periódicos de México y España. A su regreso a México, desp ...more

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