Liz Heron’s novel The Hourglass explores the themes of love and ever-lasting life against the majestic backdrop of Venice. The book is inspired by Leoš Janáček’s opera, The Makropulos Affair, about: ‘A beautiful woman, 300 years old – and forever young.’

The opening finds Paul Geddes travelling to Venice to meet wealthy widow Eva Forrest. Eva’s husband collected opera memorabilia and his collection may hold papers important to Paul’s research into the never-recorded, fin-de-siècle opera singer Esme Macguire. Little is known about Esme – ‘Wagner and Verdi must have known her, but there was no word from either’. It’s almost as if she were hiding.

From their first meeting, Eva appears arcane. The papers to which she allows Paul access relate to another young singer, who shares Esme’s initials. She claims to have lived several hundred years, the result of an experimental medication given to her by a doctor in the late seventeenth century.

Truth or delusion?

In The Hourglass, Venice provides the beautiful backdrop for some of the most significant events of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as witnessed by the singer in her various incarnations, and also the setting for Paul and Eva’s modern-day love affair. The city, presented so atmospherically, is informed by the author’s research and her own time living there. Heron’s descriptions are rich in detail, her plot complex.

An ambitious novel, The Hourglass is, for the most part, successful. It’s extremely readable; a perfect holiday read.

The Hourglass | Liz Heron | Unbound | paperback | £10.99

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Credits: Janáček writing to his muse, Kamila Stösslová, 1923–5. Quoted book text: Copyright ©  Liz Heron 2018. This review is published as part of the virtual book tour arranged by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours. Thank you to Anne and the publisher for supplying a review copy and jacket image. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing’; ‘The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola’s Gothic novel‘; ‘Midland‘; ‘A Greater God‘; ‘Once Upon a River‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng’s rising star’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘To Kill a Mockingbird (1962 trailer); ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.