The historical facts on which Carey Wallace based her debut novel, THE BLIND CONTESSA’S WRITING MACHINE are sketchy. All that is known of her main characters, Italian inventor Pellegrino Turri di Castelnuovo and his beloved, the blind Contessa Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzono, is that he created the world’s first typewriter and carbon paper to allow her to correspond with her friends. Out of these sparse bits of information, Wallace fashioned a story that leads the reader through Carolina’s descent into a world of shadows that become progressively darker until she can only see with her imagination. Her love affair with Turri parallels her transition from sighted to sightless as she shuts herself off emotionally to her her foppish young husband. Turri alone understands her her retreat into dreams. It is he who shares the hours time she spends in the playhouse her father had built for her near an artificial lake carved out of marshy terrain.
That the lake, meant to be a present for Carolina’s mother, who missed the sea, is so badly planned it ends up as a silted basin seems to exemplify the clumsy misguided efforts of the husbands in this story to reach the women they love. They try for grand gestures, but so blunted is their sensitivity that they inevitably their gestures end in failure. Among thee blundering lawfully wedded men, Turri—who is also a failure as a husband—glimmers as the proverbial knight in shining armor. His evolution from caring friend to sensitive reveals Wallace’s gift as a storyteller.
It moves as gracefully as ballet dancers’ adagio in which each movement is precise, lyrical and memorable.
Set in nineteenth century Italy, the tone of this novel is richly resonant. Its stately pace takes its measure from infinite time. Readers who appreciate subtlety, a painterly touch and music that lingers like the scent of lemon blossoms that pervades Turri and Carolina’s world will give Wallace’s work their full attention. Hers is a remarkable talent.