Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Bristol House"

Beverly Swerling novels include the City of Dreams series, a four-volume historical saga set in old New York.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Bristol House, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Dom Justin
From the Waiting Place

the great mercy you have shown in assigning me to this place in Purgatory where I might atone for my many sins.

I must go on, for as yet I have not told the worst of them, and I sense that on the other side time grows short and the woman’s danger increases...

When I left the Jew’s house, Rebecca was again waiting in the stand of trees beside the river. But this time when she pressed against me, the hair shirt of the Carthusian rule, a garment we wear always beneath our habits, scraped against my skin, and I was reminded of the suffering of eternal damnation. It was enough to overcome the carnal heat that burned my flesh, though my cock stiffened at the mere thought of the sin to which I had not as yet succumbed.

I returned quickly to the Charterhouse, but despite the urgency to be back in my cell before the bell rang for the midnight office, I was forced to pause when I saw nailed above the great doors the quarter part of the carcass of the Venerable Father. It had been put there since I left, and below it was a notice saying the thing must not be removed, “on pain of an even more terrible death for he who did the action and all who encouraged him therein.”

Giacomo the Lombard, known also as the Jew of Holborn
From the Waiting Place

I do not know why I am commanded to tell my story, nor who it is who listens. But I am grateful to be in this place that is neither earth nor Gehenna, where the eternal fire burns. I have, I know, much for which to atone, and I am promised that to tell what happened between me and my daughter and he who was known in the Charterhouse as Dom Justin will help erase their stain. So be it.

I am not required to tell everything: not how I came to leave Lombardy and smuggle myself into London to seek greater fortune, nor of the sweet young maiden I married there, a Lombard who was secretly a Jew like myself and a number of others, nor of her death hours after she gave birth to our first
Bristol House is a novel that takes place in London during both the 21st and the 16th centuries. I think anyone opening the book to page 69 after having looked however briefly at the information on the inside cover flap will know they're reading something from the historical section.

And as it happens, this page is truly evocative of the Tudor story. For one thing it offers an introduction to the two voices that tell the historical part of the novel. For another, it has just that blend of sacred and profane that I've used throughout. Mostly because that's what I think life is – sacred and profane in equal measure. Page 69 also illustrates the themes of sin and reparation which are so much a part of the story, as well as drawing attention to the mystery that links the two periods. "I sense," Dom Justin says, "that on the other side the time grows short…"

The "other side" is where Annie, the contemporary young American heroine and an architectural historian, is staying in a London apartment building known as Bristol House. And where she's trying to unravel the mystery which reaches from Justin's time into her own. You also know at once that Justin is breaking his monastic rule when he speaks of the "urgency to be back in my cell before the bell rang…" And perhaps you'll be intrigued that a man known as the Jew of Holborn is speaking from Purgatory.

I wasn't sure what genre I was writing in when I started this book. The publisher decided to call it a "supernatural thriller." I'm content with that. I hope readers are as well.
Learn more about the book and author at Beverly Swerling's website and blog.

Writers Read: Beverly Swerling (August 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue