Sudden Death

I recently had a conversation with a friend about narratives as a way of teaching empathy.  We decided that it’s effective as long as the story teller is sticking to the truth of the narrative and not just pushing an agenda.  Leaving one or two breadcrumbs the listener can relate to, another  few connecting the relation to real life, another few presenting a new idea, another few telling the end of the story, an end that, ideally, leaves the listener understanding that all the crumbs they found came from the same loaf of bread.  Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue was our breadcrumb theory on steroids.


In addition to being an amplified version of a slightly tipsy conversation I had, Sudden Death reminded me of an assignment I had for an English Class I once took.  We had to keep research notebooks.  In these research notebooks we were to explore a topic that interested us. It could be anything that had even just been mentioned in class or a book we read in class just once.  We kept these notebooks and explored the topic from every angle we could think and brought it all together in a succinct way by the end of the semester.  Alvaro Enrigue has given us the gift of a beautifully written and self aware research notebook that lets us draw our own conclusions.

If it seems like I’m being a little bit dodgy about what Sudden Death is actually about, I promise you it’s not on purpose.  I’ve spent the last two paragraphs trying to think about what to say. History? Tennis? Art? The through line is a tennis match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian artist Caravaggio played with a tennis ball made from the hair of Anne Boleyn.  If pressed I would say it’s about turning points in history and those who create them, both on purpose and inadvertently.  It’s a look at the butterfly effect, if the butterfly fucked and fought its way through all of its problems and never bothered to learn the language of those it was conquering.  Depending on my mood this was an admonishment of the behavior of the victors of history or it was a warning to those on the precipice of being a victor.  Is it worth winning if you go down in history as a monster?

This is a book that forces you to come to your own conclusions.  It’s fascinating, smart, beautiful, and funny along the way, but you have to draw the lines yourself.  You get bounced around from Continent to Continent, story line to story line, Anne Boleyn to tennis ball, and character to character, but it does come together and even before it does it’s hard not to be drawn in by the writing.  Be prepared to think critically about how things came to be and how our present is being recorded.  I think if we were all thinking about that already, Sudden Death wouldn’t feel like such a necessary read.


Common Place Book Entries

“We cling to our tennis shoes until wearing them on a rainy day is agony.  Anyone in a position of power hates them, impervious as they are to their agendas.”

-Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

“Now, rather than a matter of life or death, it was a matter of victory or defeat-a much more complex affair, and harder to bear because the loser of a duel by sword isn’t obliged to live with the consequences.”

-Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

“The duke raised his eyes a little and fixed them on Mary Magdalene’s breasts.  He recognized them: they were, of course, the most defiant pair of tits in the history of art.”

-Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

“Novels demolish monuments because all novels, even the most chaste, are a tiny bit pornographic.”

-Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

“Maybe all books are written simply because in every game the bad guys have the advantage and that is too much to bear.”

-Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue



4 thoughts on “Sudden Death

  1. I love your thoughts on the novel, but I have to ask, how did you manage to keep up with all the information that was thrown at you as if you were playing squash instead of tennis? I found it extremely difficult – almost to the point that it killed the joy of reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly I did flip back a lot to remind myself of information that I’d forgotten. Sometimes with books like this one I try to just ride the wave of info and hope that it’ll come together for me by the end. You’re right though I had to concentrate a lot harder with this book than I do with most and at times it was a struggle!

      Liked by 1 person

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