Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Michelle Lovric: The Remedy

The Remedy, by Michelle Lovric, is a story about life in the underworld of London and Venice; it is set in the late eighteenth century.

The book is a sublime example of the novelist's art; I warmly recommend it to anyone with a taste for fiction and some interest in Europe and its history. And the book nicely illustrates, as we shall see, the plight of the contemporary writer.

The principal characters in The Remedy are two lovers: the successful criminal Valentine Greatrakes, whom no one but a foreigner would mistake for a gentleman; and Catarina Venier, who was born to a noble Venetian family but who finds herself working as a common actress under the name Mimosina Dolcezza. She also doubles as a spy for the Venetian authorities.

What we have here is a book which is difficult to categorise. It is a highly romantic story, but the book is by no means a typical romance. There are many crimes in it, including a murder mystery, the solution to which is provided in the last chapter; but it is not a whodunit. The story involves espionage, but we do not have here a thriller. It is a historical novel, obviously. And it is, to a point, literary; though not quite literary enough, I suspect, to appeal to purist readers of that genre; it is a tad too commercial for them, and yet not commercial enough for, say, the Josephine Cox fans.

In brief, we have here a book which some would call gothic (though not me because I don't really understand what that means), but which in my view fits neatly into no pigeonhole: it is, I suspect, a marketing person's nightmare, in that it is a traditional mainstream novel, magnificently well done. But how can you sell that, in today's market?

In order to write a book such as this, the writer must bring to the table (or the word-processor) a multitude of skills: a capacity for detailed research into period and place; a well-founded knowledge of human nature; an assured grasp of narrative technique; a mastery (or mistressy?) of the use of language; patience; stamina; self-belief; and a love for the characters portrayed -- even when, like the grossly overweight and spoilt teenager, Pevenche, they are difficult to love. It is a measure, by the way, of this writer's skill that, by the end of the book, I had come to feel affection and sympathy for Pevenche, who is as unlovable a character as ever stamped her petulant little foot; or, in Pevenche's case, big flat foot.

There are many high points in the book, and it is invidious to pick out any. But I particularly enjoyed the section which deals with the quack doctor -- Dottore Velena -- who sells amazing 'medicines' on the streets of London. The Dottore's sales spiel is as fine a piece of sustained brilliance in the use of language as you are likely to come across in many a long year of reading.

Overall, the story is told without haste, in prose of a languorous nature. It is an extraordinary display of virtuosity, featuring passion, hate, fear, revenge, brutality, and kindness. It is a pleasure and a delight to read; I would be proud, myself, to have written anything half as good.

And yet... And yet...

My reservations are not about the book -- I hope I have made that clear -- but about the cruel and heartless world in which it has to make its way. What, I wonder, will be its ultimate reception and fate?

The Remedy was first published by Virago in the UK in 2005, as a trade paperback. A hardback edition was published by Regan Books in New York later that year. The UK mass-market paperback comes out in May, the US one in October.

Reviews? Publishers Marketplace reveals none in the US. The author's own web site quotes the Sunday Times from the UK, and a few Australian papers; the Amazon.com entry quotes Publishers Weekly and Booklist. All are polite, even enthusiastic. But the book has not, it seems, set the world alight.

So. The author has done a prodigious amount of research (see the book's appendix). She has spent several hundred hours exercising her not inconsiderable talents. And while I have not had the cheek to ask her publisher or agent how many copies Virago have so far sold in the UK (and almost certainly wouldn't get a straight answer if I did), you would not surprise me if you told me that the publisher had struggled to sell a thousand copies so far.

And that, dear Reader, is what I meant when I said that this book illustrates, to a nicety, the plight of the modern writer. Michelle Lovric has written a book which is every bit as good as those by Sarah Waters (whom she admires); but unlike Sarah she has not yet taken off.

Of course, it might yet happen. The television boys might film The Remedy (but it's wickedly expensive to do these costume things). But at present, all this author has to show for her effort and talent is a couple of modest (one suspects) advances (UK and USA), plus the admiration and respect of a boring old man in Wiltshire.

Not a lot, is it?

11 comments:

lady t said...

I enjoyed Lovric's first novel,The Floating Book(even wrote a Booksense blurb for FB that was used for a couple of ads)and The Remedy looks amazing.

It is sad that reviewers don't seem to have picked up on it-maybe it's up to the blogosphere to spread the good word here.

Walter Ellis said...

Dear Mr Grumpy,

I couldn't agree with you more about Michelle Lovric and her novel, The Remedy. But wait ... that's not true. I agree with you even more than that.

We must hope that someone out there gets their finger out and, er, whips it off the back burner.

You should know, by the way, that I frequently disagree with you. In fact, sometimes, I couldn't disagree with you more ...

And why not?

Thomas Quinn said...

I can identify with Michelle Lovric's plight. I'm in the same gondola. I wrote The Lion of St. Mark, a novel that was published in July 2005. The Philadelphia Inquirer's incomparable book editor, Frank Wilson, reviewed it positively, making it his "Editor's Choice" but my publisher did not achieve effective distribution at retail, although it sells very well on the Internet merchants' sites.

I think the problem for today's less well-known authors, of which group I am one, is the same as that facing those who are seeking bank loans - the banks only want to loan money to those who do not need it. Similarly today, publishers seem to want to place their marketing investment bets on books that would sell without the marketing. Alas, with your help, I will, someday, perhaps be worthy of my publisher's marketing support too.

Perhaps while you are blogging to help Michelle Lovric achieve justice for newest book, you can have a look at mine - I think you'll like it. It's set in Venice at the time Constantinople fell to the Turks - 1453. It tells the story of two feuding Venetian nobles who must find a way to work together, despite their differences, to deal with the greater external threat of the Ottoman Turks who want to destroy Venice forever - sound familiar?

Carla said...

Thank you for the recommendation, I'll make a point of finding this.

And I suspect quite a number of writers would be pleased to have "the admiration and respect of a boring old man in Wiltshire." Or indeed of any reader who takes the time to read their book with care.

Iain said...

Might I take the liberty of addressing Michelle Lovric directly? She may, after all, be with us even now. So listen, Michelle (may I call you Ms Lovric, or perhaps Miss Lovric?) your lack of success is entirely your own fault.

Publishing today is effectively run by sales and marketing. Editorial used to rule the roost, but not no more. A non-celeb who chooses to write a non-genre novel is simply asking for trouble.

The head of every publisher's marketing department, and of every publisher's sales department, bears the name of Gradgrind. (It's a legal requirement: if your name isn't already Gradgrind, you are obliged to change it by deed poll before you can take up the post). "Now what I want is Facts . . . Facts alone are wanted in life."

Are you still listening? Here is a fact: "The Thirty-Nine Steps is a thriller." Now here is a value judgment: "The Remedy is a wonderful novel." Mr Gradgrind knows exactly what to do with the fact, but the value judgment is worthless to him.

Do you know how publishers react to the failure of a book about, say, the Spanish Armada? It is of course possible that the book is a turkey, or that it was badly marketed, but these are value judgments. So the conclusion of the publishing establishment is as follows: "There is no market for books about the Spanish Armada." That, you see, is a fact. (NB It doesn't have to be true, that's a different matter entirely.) So you can forget about anything new on the Spanish Armada for a few years.

Now, O publishers, many of you will howl in protest at this assertion, and will have no trouble finding examples that appear to disprove it. But, with your hands on your black hearts, can you honestly claim that it isn't very largely true?

Back to Michelle Lovric (I think I'd really like to call you ML. How would that be?) If you're as good as His Grumpiness tells us (and I'll soon know. I will), then F&F beckon, promise. By getting published in the first place, you're almost there. What you need to do now is to get in touch with your publisher's marketing department -- just ask for Mr Gradgrind -- and write precisely what they tell you to.

See to it.

Anonymous said...

I just finished The Remedy and LOVED it! I thought it was brilliant and superbly written. I look forward to reading The Floating Book next!

kim said...

I just finished The Remedy and LOVED it! I thought it was brilliant and superbly written. I look forward to reading The Floating Book next!

Anonymous said...

I can tell readers that The Remedy has made its way to America. I liked it very much and have recommended the book to others. In fact, I liked it well enough to do an online search of the author and found this site. I'm surprised to learn here that it has not been more successful.

Victoria Jordan said...

I love Lovric. Have read The Floating Book The Remedy and Carnivale. Live in the US and had to special order Carnivale from the UK. The Floating Book may be the best book, bar none, that I have ever read. Was so moved, I googled the author and sent her an email. She was gracious enough to email back. I think she writes some of the most beautiful literature and her books should be blazing hot...not to be missed.

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