Arsenic & Old Lace
By Iris Anthony
Sourcebooks, $14.99, 352 pages
Lace. It seems innocuous, finely sewn fabric with immense detail. Beautiful, yes; complex, yes—but innocuous. But, as Iris Anthony shows in her novel The Ruins of Lace, there was a period where, in France, lace was illegal – and, as is so often the case when a product becomes contraband – became much more deadly than one would otherwise expect. In this novel, Anthony brings her readers into a world of lace makers, lovers, and smugglers, and shows us the strange ways in which the lives and fate of these disparate groups of people are intertwined because of one substance: lace.
Told through multiple perspectives (a morally depraved homosexual count with a penchant for gambling and cruelty; a lace-maker whose eyesight is going, after spending years perfecting her craft; even a dog used to smuggle lace across the border to and from Flanders), The Ruins of Lace introduces readers to a world that most probably do not even know existed. Because the book has multiple narrators, some less appealing than others, the reader never tires of a certain perspective. The chapters are relatively short and, while not always quick-moving, they never drag.
Overall, The Ruins of Lace is an intriguing historical novel with a toughness that might surprise, given its subject.
Reviewed By Ashley McCall