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Sudden Death
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2017 TOB -The Books > Sudden Death

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message 1: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1590 comments space to discuss Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue


message 2: by Heather (new)

Heather (hlynhart) | 297 comments I'm about 1/4 of the way through and it's the first one on the list I'm considering abandoning. I keep telling myself to push through, even though I'm thoroughly confused and bored, because I figure I can at least absorb a few history facts from it (I'm an avid trivia nerd, play in a lot of IRL and online competitions, and history is not my strong suit). Any other words of advice or encouragement for muscling through it?


Drew (drewsof) Heather wrote: "I'm about 1/4 of the way through and it's the first one on the list I'm considering abandoning. I keep telling myself to push through, even though I'm thoroughly confused and bored, because I figur..."

This one seems to've been really divisive but it was my hands-down favorite book of 2016. If you relax into it and enjoy the utter weirdness, I'd like to think it might be easier - think of it not as muscling through but instead let it just kind of wash over you. That might end up sucking you in!


Ehrrin | 114 comments I love this one so much! I actually love all three of the sports books (!!!); I wish all the could be in the mix. But if I have to choose, it's definitely Sudden Death.


lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 51 comments wow, I feel bad to see a bracket that pits this novel against two other books. It's so innovative and so unusual a read and I wish it had just made the regular tourney. I know The Throwback Special and The Sport of Kings have their champions too and it feels a little grubby frankly to have any of them need to compete in a 3-way play-in round but I guess it's good that they have any exposure.


Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments I haven't finished Sudden Death yet, but it is my favourite so far -- I love the way all the pieces are slowly connecting up, I love the historical back-and-forth, I love the chapters from the 'author' talking about his decisions in writing the novel. I'm very glad the ToB led me to this one, I would never have picked it up otherwise.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

poingu wrote: "wow, I feel bad to see a bracket that pits this novel against two other books. It's so innovative and so unusual a read and I wish it had just made the regular tourney."

I agree. The positive is that it will be a competitive play-in round. Whichever book advances, it is sure to soundly defeat Mister Monkey.


message 8: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1590 comments I'm so torn... I liked all the seemingly random tidbits that are pulled together for this story but I feel a little cheated... it's as if the magician did his flourish and flashed some firecrackers or something but there wasn't a reveal to the trick. What am I missing here? This was a book by a Mexican author who uses the conquest of Mexico (almost exclusively through the winner's eyes) as a vehicle to smuggle a token of inspiration down a century and across the ocean to light the genius of an Italian painter. (Thats my super unfair synopsis) I'm left wondering what to make of it and what on earth I would make of it as a fellow countryman, or as one of the few remaining indigenous peoples. please help me not feel so cynical about this! (I'm really wishing I had some of y'all next door!)


Matthew | 74 comments Amy wrote: "I'm so torn... I liked all the seemingly random tidbits that are pulled together for this story but I feel a little cheated... it's as if the magician did his flourish and flashed some firecrackers..."

Very well put Amy! I was torn about it too. Since everything plus the kitchen sink was getting thrown into the narrative mix anyway, there should have been room for more pov from indigenous characters. It might have given it more depth. But I think perhaps that type of depth wasn't his main goal in writing the book. Super-talented writer, so I tried to just go with it and not get bogged down on quibbles, but couldn't quite get there.


message 10: by Saya (new) - rated it 2 stars

Saya (motheroftherevolution) | 42 comments I'm about half way through and this one is jumping around a bit too much for my taste.

I feel like I'm listening to a small child tell a story - there isn't any linear thought, it keeps jumping around (without any clear reason why), and I'm pretending to understand in the hopes that all of the pieces come together.

I'm pulling for Sport of Kings to win the play in round. Tina might be my reading twin though as I agree that any of the sport books can beat Mister Monkey.


message 11: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1037 comments Amy wrote: "This was a book by a Mexican author who uses the conquest of Mexico (almost exclusively through the winner's eyes) as a vehicle to smuggle a token of inspiration down a century and across the ocean to light the genius of an Italian painter. (Thats my super unfair synopsis) I'm left wondering what to make of it and what on earth I would make of it as a fellow countryman, or as one of the few remaining indigenous peoples...."

Amy, that comment right there is everything I love about the TOB and this group. Thank you!


message 12: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1037 comments Speaking of being unfair to a book, I'm about a third of the way in and while the book is erudite and witty, I am not warming up to it, and I realized this morning that part of the reason is the casual use of the Anne Boleyn's hair made into a tennis ball idea. I think my feeling is insupportable, and maybe it's my political rage overflowing where it doesn't belong, but every time Enrigue mentions AB's hair/tennis ball, it feels like a guy being blithely oblivious to the sexism, sadism and misogyny behind Boleyn's death, not to mention 1,000 years of Western history. So I guess Enrigue blasted me out of my conventional thinking about palace intrigue and the need for an heir, and put me in mind of Henry VIII as just another murdering, spouse-abusing creep.

Yeah, having a hard time with this whole Trump Presidency thing.


Ruthiella | 329 comments Jan wrote: "Yeah, having a hard time with this whole Trump Presidency thing."

I read this book last year and loved it, but I hear you. The current political climate definitely colored my readings of other books on the short list like The Nix, Sweet Lamb of Heaven, and Version Control.


message 14: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1037 comments Ruthiella wrote: "Jan wrote: "Yeah, having a hard time with this whole Trump Presidency thing."

I read this book last year and loved it, but I hear you. The current political climate definitely colored my readings ..."


Thanks, Ruthiella. The discussions should definitely be interesting this year!


Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments Unless you're a Caravaggio scholar AND fan, I can't see any other reason to read this. I feel like I just took a top speed history course that lasted a week, but should have covered two years. I don't even know what I read. The writing, however, was great, and when Enrique was in a story, I was there with him, but I couldn't handle all the historical info. My inadequacy, I'm sure, but damn, that was hard to get through.


message 16: by Drew (last edited Feb 15, 2017 05:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Drew (drewsof) I'm saddened to hear so many people dismissing this book for its crash-course historical derring-do - especially because so much of it is somewhat-to-very fictionalized. The tennis match didn't happen and even the MacGuffin of the whole novel, the Anne-Boleyn-infused tennis ball, is totally apocryphal. I'm sure we're going to have some great discussions come the 8th, so I'll hang on and wait for that - but I'm fascinated by how I've read/been told by friends (not universally but often enough to be a trend) that interjections of history/historical stuff that might be unfamiliar seems to backfoot so many readers, put them on a kind of defensive with the book, when I think Enrigue is standing across the court and serving the ball not to try and ace but to get the reader to return serve.


message 17: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1037 comments Drew wrote: "I'm saddened to hear so many people dismissing this book ... I think Enrigue is standing across the court and serving the ball not to try and ace but to get the reader to return serve. ..."

Thank you for that metaphor, Drew. It beautifully captures my experience reading the book (now about two-thirds of the way through). I normally work pretty hard to be a "good" reader, which in my mind means making myself open to whatever show the author is trying to put on. Sudden Death just does not engage me, so it feels very much like I'm standing in the court watching whatever Enrigue serves up go by. I'm not even willing to label myself a bad reader on this one...I'll just call it a mismatch.


message 18: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1590 comments Yeah - this is why I commented I'm being "unfair". There's a lot here but when I try to bring my critical eye to it, I can tell I have blinders on... so I'm dying for in-depths discussions on this book to help me suss out intent.
I personally loved the story of obtaining the hair and creating the Boleyn ball because it connected so many world events while treating those who touched the ball with respect. (The beheading in fact I found surprisingly deft). So despite realizing this was one of many loosely interconnected anecdotes, I too was disappointed to see the ball's role through the rest of the book to be handled so casually. Meanwhile the scapular had a moment in each handoff of note taken and often awe given.


message 19: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1590 comments @Jan "mismatch" -haha


Nadine (nadinekc) | 495 comments I'm 2/3 of the way through and absolutely loving it! I feel like I'm getting a back door, street-view of the 15th century - I can practically smell it. I love the sly voice of the author and the way he bounces around in time and space, yet still builds such a granular world - all without weighing the book down with descriptions. It's a page-turner for me - I can't wait to see where he'll go next. No matter which way the Tournament goes, I'm thrilled that it put this book under my nose.


message 21: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 51 comments I hear what people are saying when they say they are left a little cold by this novel but when I read it last spring I was totally carried away by its overwhelming inventiveness, one thing after another that is so precisely detailed, and so not-true, and so good and masking fiction as history, that I got carried away.

Also the writing itself delighted me.

The thing I liked most though was the description of what it might have been like to be Cortez's daughter. I mean, I had never thought about that before.


Natalie | 51 comments Amy wrote: "This was a book by a Mexican author who uses the conquest of Mexico (almost exclusively through the winner's eyes) as a vehicle to smuggle a token of inspiration down a century and across the ocean to light the genius of an Italian painter. (Thats my super unfair synopsis) I'm left wondering what to make of it and what on earth I would make of it as a fellow countryman, or as one of the few remaining indigenous peoples. please help me not feel so cynical about this!"

I'm neither Mexican nor indigenous and I'm only about a third of the way through Sudden Death, but so far, my thoughts on this are:

-Since Álvaro Enrigue is actually Mexican and I am not, his perspective on the conquest of Mexico is more relevant than mine, and if things about it seem weird to me, that's an invitation to examine them more closely.

-Thus far, Cortés does not appear to be presented particularly sympathetically. For instance: the big long aside about how there are 160 million Mexicans currently alive, and all of them hate Cortés.

-Cortés's wife and daughter aren't presented particularly sympathetically either, to my eye--so far, Enrigue's attitude towards Juana seems to be, "She was really privileged and also completely unaware of her privilege--yikes!"

-Maybe things change later on, but my overall impression is that Enrigue is setting up the conquistador characters to be figures of satire, whom we're supposed to find appalling and laughable rather than sympathetic.

Does that help at all?


message 23: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam (adamstephenhall) Excellent points. The narrator/author has an aside about how he didn't know what the book was about, exactly--just that he was sick of seeing the bad guys win all the time.

Boleyn's hair and the conquered peoples' artistry are extracted from them as the price of exploitation. Their stories are all the more tragic and poignant that the winners/exploiters treat these artifacts so casually.


Nadine (nadinekc) | 495 comments Amy wrote: "This was a book by a Mexican author who uses the conquest of Mexico (almost exclusively through the winner's eyes)...I'm left wondering what to make of it and what on earth I would make of it as a fellow countryman, or as one of the few remaining indigenous peoples. please help me not feel so cynical about this!"

Amy, I think you're not alone in your cynicism - Enrigue is cynical almost to the point of nihilism (or at least absurdism) over human history. Here's a quote from pg. 122

"The rest of infinite America still had no inkling that over the next two hundred years, dozens of thousand-year-old cultures that had flourished in isolation, without contamination or means of defense, would inexorably be trashed. Not that it matters: nothing matters. Species are extinguished, children leave home, friends turn up with impossible girlfriends, cultures disappear, languages are one day no longer spoken; those who survive convince themselves that they were the most fit.”


message 25: by Gayla (last edited Mar 03, 2017 07:03AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gayla Bassham (sophronisba) | 156 comments It's interesting to me that people were upset by the use of Anne Boleyn's hair, because I thought the author was very aware of the misogyny and oppression that led to Boleyn's death; I thought that was the whole point of the image.

Having said that, I wasn't wild about the book; I never really could get into it.

(I also don't agree that any of the sports books could beat Mister Monkey; if The Throwback Special were to advance I think Mister Monkey beats it easily. And if I were the judge I would have to really think about Sudden Death vs. Mister Monkey.)


Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments I agree, Gayla; I thought the book described a lot of misogyny and oppression without celebrating it -- whether it's Boleyn's hair or the gold of the Aztecs, it's all about certain men fighting over ownership and possession, and the author is not a fan of any of that.


message 27: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1037 comments Gayla wrote: "It's interesting to me that people were upset by the use of Anne Boleyn's hair, because I thought the author was very aware of the misogyny and oppression that led to Boleyn's death; I thought that..."

I don't think my response to the book was fair or justifiable, but for me, by the time Enrigue conveyed that he was aware of the misogyny & oppression, I had turned against him. It was a reminder for me of how much our emotional state (like feeling sad/angry that my fellow citizens put such a blatant bully/misogynist in the White House) can color our reading experiences fairly or unfairly. If I'd read it a year or two ago, I might have been charmed by it.


Nadine (nadinekc) | 495 comments Jan wrote: "but for me, by the time Enrigue conveyed that he was aware of the misogyny & oppression, I had turned against him. It was a reminder for me of how much our emotional state (like feeling sad/angry that my fellow citizens put such a blatant bully/misogynist in the White House) ..."

Jan, I'm 100% there with you about the current president, which is why this description of Cortes from Sudden Death delighted me so much:

"...he wasn’t just Europe’s greatest celebrity but the prince of all those who fuck things up without realizing it. He’s the lord of the fight pickers, the litigious, those who can never acknowledge their own success; the captain of all those who win an impossible battle only to believe that it’s the first of many and then sink in their own shit with sword raised.”

I'd change 'realizing it' to 'understanding it' though.


message 29: by Jan (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1037 comments @Nadine, @Gayla, @Bryn, you guys are gonna end up making me want to give it another shot somewhere down the road. :-)


message 30: by Drew (new) - rated it 3 stars

Drew (drewlynn) | 416 comments Not only were there no quotation marks, dialogue wasn't separated into paragraphs! Neighbors, where are you?! Luckily there wasn't a lot of dialogue.

This was the book I was least enthusiastic about reading but I ended up enjoying it (mostly). I like stretching my mind a bit.


Nadine (nadinekc) | 495 comments Drew wrote: "Not only were there no quotation marks, dialogue wasn't separated into paragraphs! Neighbors, where are you?! Luckily there wasn't a lot of dialogue..."

I didn't notice that! I guess I was completely immersed!


message 32: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie | 127 comments I came to read people's thoughts because I am over 100 pages in and just don't care. I don't know if it's that I started it on a morning with my kids around and couldn't devote the proper attention to a book that jumps around so much or what. I am finishing it tomorrow on a plane so it will be easy to focus. I want to get out of it what so many of you have.


Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments Jan wrote: "by the time Enrigue conveyed that he was aware of the misogyny & oppression, I had turned against him."

Bryn wrote: "whether it's Boleyn's hair or the gold of the Aztecs, it's all about certain men fighting over ownership and possession, and the author is not a fan of any of that. "

Maybe it was how much I also grooved to The Story of My Teeth (written by Enrigue's wife), which also had those strands of possession and obsession over history, but I never felt concerned about Enrigue's worldview. He got a pass from the start because of Luiselli approves of him, I do, too.


Nadine (nadinekc) | 495 comments In the latest Bookworm podcast, Michael Silverblatt talks with Enrigue about Sudden Death:

https://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/sho...


message 35: by lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 51 comments Nadine wrote: "In the latest Bookworm podcast, Michael Silverblatt talks with Enrigue about Sudden Death:

https://www.kcrw.com/news-culture/sho..."


Thanks for posting, Nadine!


message 36: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy (asawatzky) | 1590 comments @ Melanie - I hadn't made the Luisella connection! How cool! Isn't it funny how ones associations can generate additional graciousness!?


Deborah (brandiec) | 113 comments I think this is my least favorite book in the tournament. The only parts I liked were the metafictional asides about the writing of the novel itself; otherwise, I was bored out of my skull.


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