MURDER MOST SERENE
In the last days of the Venetian Republic, the successive wives of Count Alvise Lanzi suffer mysterious, agonizing deaths. Murder Most Serene offers a cruel portrait of a beautiful, corrupt city-state and its equally extravagant, cruel, and corrupt inhabitants; redolent of darkness, death, corruption, poison, and transgression, it is also an over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek Venetian romp. Rich in historical detail and bursting with bejeweled putrescence, Gabrielle Wittkop’s chilling memento mori eschews the murder mystery in which it is garbed for a scintillating depiction of physical, moral, societal, and institutional corruption, in which the author plays the role of puppeteer—“present, masked as convention dictates, while in a Venice on the brink of downfall, women gorged with venom burst like wineskins.”
Self-styled heir to the Marquis de Sade, Gabrielle Wittkop (1920–2002) was a French author of a remarkable series of novels and travelogues, all laced with sardonic humor and dark sexuality, with recurrent themes of death, decay, disease, and decrepitude. After meeting Justus Wittkop, a German deserter, in Paris under the Occupation, she hid him from the Nazis and then married him after the war, in what she described as an “intellectual alliance.” He would commit suicide in 1986, with her approval, after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Her first novel, The Necrophiliac, appeared in 1972, but a number of her books have only been made available since her own suicide in 2002, after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“To all who suffer under political systems, Wittkop offers a prescription that’s difficult to swallow: the more violent your liberation, the more obscene and criminal you’ll have to become to feel free.”
“This is dark, rich, deeply disturbing writing, conscious of its artifice and expertly manipulating that.”
“This isn’t simply a transcription of past events, but a kaleidoscopic vision of a society on the verge of moral, physical, and political collapse. The inevitable death of the Serene Republic rendered in a precocious admixture of apocalyptic foreboding and arch comedy.”
“Wittkop frames her macabre voyeurism in the tradition of the ancient injunction inscribed on the Delphic temple: Know thyself.”
“[Murder Most Serene] is a romp. Wittkop, too, is a superior writer, and I mean superior to nearly everyone I’ve ever read. These sentences are gorgeous; these sentences are so gorgeous they rekindled my belief in the efficacy of the beautiful. But when I recommend this book to friends, and they dutifully ask me why, I say this, first: Murder Most Serene will be the most fun you have reading this year. It was for me.
“[B]y far the most radical of Wittkop’s works thus far available in English, a fascinating—if aesthetically dubious—exploration of Calvinistic world-weariness.”