The Hourglass by Liz Heron: beautiful and complex

The Hourglass by Liz Heron


25 October 2018

ABOUT THE BOOK:   Spring 2000. Paul Geddes visits Venice to research the fin-de-siècle opera singer, Esme Maguire, seeking out a cache of papers held by Eva Forrest, the widow of a collector. What he reads begins in the 1680s, moving through the city s later history of Enlightenment and Revolution, describing a life stretched beyond human possibilities.

She travels across Europe to sing in Regency London and Edinburgh, then Belle Epoque Paris, always returning to Venice, its shadows and its luminosity, its changes and its permanence.

What would it be like to live for nearly 300 years, as an exceptional being who must renew herself time after time, as those she has loved age and die? Could this story be grounded in reality or be merely the product of an ageing woman s delusion, as Paul suspects.

Warily, Eva and Paul fall in love, their tentative emotions bringing them closer until, on a trip to the Dolomites, Eva s past catches up with her.

My review

It’s true that it’s often the simplest ideas that work the best. The idea of if not eternal life then at least a much elongated one is to be found in a lot of literature. But that’s not to denigrate this author’s talent since she uses this idea and gives it a unique and fascinating setting in the world of Italian opera. Thus a simple concept becomes a vibrant, hugely enjoyable novel.

I love it when I can take more than just a story away with me from a work of fiction. This book has given me plenty of ‘did you know’ material concerning opera, music and Venetian history to casually drop into conversations, or just to think ‘well, I never knew that’ about.

What it might be like to be immortal, the good and the bad of it, is given much focus and thoughtfully dealt with in the novel. Changing viewpoints in the narration keep the reader on their toes, and inject even more freshness into the story.

Beautiful, descriptive abounds from an author who has a sharp eye for detail and for the very ‘soul’ of a place. Her characters, both past and present, are also intriguing and carefully depicted and thus totally convincing.

There is much to enjoy and discover in this very interesting, complex novel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Liz Heron grew up in Scotland and studied at Glasgow University. After living in Paris, Madrid and Venice, she embarked on freelance life in London, contributing arts and literary journalism to Spare Rib, The New Statesman, The Listener, The Village Voice, New Society, The Guardian and many other publications. Her literary translations from French and Italian range from Georges Bataille and Giorgio Agamben to the novels of Paola Capriolo. Her own books include Truth, Dare or Promise, a compilation of essays on childhood, and Streets of Desire, an anthology of women’s 20th-century writing on the world’s great cities, both published by Virago, as was her short-story collection, A Red River (1996).

Liz began researching her novel, The Hourglass, during her second spell of life in Venice.

Her website is

She writes a blog, mainly on film:

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