Mary Novik

Book Cover A literary adventure with a heady mix of fact and myth, Muse is the first person story of Solange Le Blanc, the mysterious woman who is the inspiration behind Petrarch's sublime love poetry.

Born on the street of the cloth dyers in 14th-century Avignon, Solange has the gift of clairvoyance. She is orphaned at age five and taken in by Benedictine nuns who think that she is destined to be a saint. At fifteen, she evades her destiny by seeking her fortune as a Benedictine scribe in a city now bursting with goldsmiths, bankers, clerics, and harlots. In this extraordinary time known as the Babylonian captivity, Solange falls in love with the poet Petrarch and becomes entangled in a love triangle with Laura, the woman he worships from afar. Discarded by her lover, and blacklisted as a scribe because she is a femme sole, Solange sets out to transform herself into one of Avignon's spectacular courtesans.

When her gift for prophecy catches the Pope's ear, Solange becomes Clement VI's confidante and mistress. He passes her off as his "niece" in the most celebrated court in Europe, a salon for the artists, musicians, and intellectuals who are the avant-garde of the Renaissance. Drawn into intrigues in the papal palace, Solange is vilified by the Italians who, led by their poet laureate, Petrarch, are trying to compel the Pope to leave this Babylon and return to Rome. Then an eclipse of the moon darkens the sky, warning of divine wrath for the excesses of the court. The plague follows, cleansing Avignon by killing one-third of its population, and Solange is driven, once again, to reinvent herself and fight against a final, mortal conspiracy to force her to embrace her destiny as a harlot saint.


Praise for Mary Novik's Muse:

"[Muse] is rich and powerful, wiser than it may initially appear, and thought-provoking on a number of levels. Solange herself is a stunning fictional creation, and her story unfolds with the austerity and seeming inevitability of a classical tragedy.... allow yourself to be swept up in an account of how the world changed, and of the woman who was at the centre of it all." —The Vancouver Sun

"Solange is a compelling voice and the reader is as helpless to her seductive charms as the powerful men in her life are. With Muse, Novik has crafted a heroine who pushes against the constraints of her time and station, placing her in a richly imagined world that thrums with life." —Globe and Mail

"Mary Novik brings a literate woman out of the shadows of history.... [Muse is] a cross between Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.... There is no doubt that the sensational twists and turns of Novik's plot, the rapid changes of scene, and the piling on of horrors, all combine to give this story a wide appeal.... The various themes in Muse — women as nurturers of male artists, as muse figures, as artist's models and subjects — are skillfully woven by Novik, and given resonance by her knowledge of the historical and literary background." —BC BookWorld

"In the tradition of Tracy Chevalier, A.S. Byatt, Sarah Dunant, and — more recently — Cathy Marie Buchanan, Mary Novik's captivating second novel imagines the circumstances surrounding the creation of venerated works of art: in this case, the love sonnets of the Italian bard, Petrarch. Novik's tale of Solange Le Blanc, fictional muse and lover of Petrarch, is set in the 14th century, during the Avignon Papacy. Brimming with political, cultural, and religious detail, Muse depicts a period of stark contrasts when soaring works of human ingenuity and creativity were produced amid social corruption, degradation, and plague." —Source

"Like such popular historical novelists as Sarah Dunant and Philippa Gregory ... Novik creates strong female characters — witty, charming, and courageous — who are able to influence powerful men.... Novik skillfully writes the origins of the early Renaissance with a feminist point of view.... As literary fiction, Muse is an illuminating portrait of women struggling to have it all, including lovers, children, fortune and prominence." —Winnipeg Free Press

Length: 300 pp
Setting: Avignon, France
Period: 14th century
Publication date: August 2013

Canadian rights, Doubleday Canada
Italian rights, Newton Compton Editori
French rights, Éditions Hurtubise

For all other rights contact The Cooke Agency.

Mary Novik
Photo credit: Janet Baxter


Mary Novik's debut novel Conceit, about the daughter of the poet John Donne, was hailed as "a magnificent novel of seventeenth-century London" by The Globe and Mail. Chosen as a book of the year by both Quill & Quire and The Globe and Mail, Conceit was long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Ethel Wilson Prize. Canada Reads named Conceit one of The Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade. Mary lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is writing a series of novels about minor characters in the lives of great figures of literature

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