Here are some of my favourite quotations from the reviews of Conceit. For a chronological list of reviews and other responses, see Resources & Critiques.
“This exuberant debut is so forcefully imagined, it’s hard to believe it emerged from a New World outpost like Vancouver.”
GUDRUN WILL, Vancouver Review, No. 15 (Fall 2007), p. 25.
“A magnificent novel of 17th-century London. . . . Conceit is a mind-expanding creation of a distant world . . . in often-exhilarating detail, seen, heard, felt, smelled and tasted. . . . Reading Conceit is like settling into a multi-course feast that shifts your ideas of food, of the wonders that art can conjure from the staples of life. . . . Buy the book. Find a free weekend and a quiet place. Do not Google. Step away from the remote. Enter London, 1666, the blaze of death and life. Recall what it means to know a world through the surface of a page, created in the words of a gifted stranger, made uniquely yours by your own storehouse of experience and the mystery of your subconscious. Conceit will cut a reviving swath through your tech-addled world.”
JIM BARTLEY, The Globe and Mail, September 8, 2007, pp. D1, 8, 25.
“How to write a review in 350 words that does justice to Mary Novik’s extraordinary debut novel Conceit? … Novik plunges us into the London of the Great Fire of 1666 as the book opens. She makes us smell the smoke and feel the heat, just as she shows us, a little later on, the longing that Pegge Donne (daughter of poet John) feels for her first love, Izaak Walton…. The book is a vision of ‘my seventeenth century,’ Novik writes in her acknowledgments, adding that she has ‘invented joyfully and freely.’ The result is as delightful as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and as erudite and readable as A.S. Byatt’s Possession.”
MARY SODERSTORM, starred review in Quill & Quire, September 2007, p.59.
“A powerful and passionate historical story vividly set in 17th-century England. . . . Fans of novels like A.S. Byatt’s Possession and Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring will probably enjoy Novik’s perspective on one of the great figures of English literature.”
JOE WIEBE, The Vancouver Sun, September 1, 2007, p. C10.
Conceit “unites the earthy bawdiness of John Donne’s earlier poems, and that of mid-17th century London itself, with the solemnity and holiness found in his later works, mingling the sacred and the profane just as Donne himself did.”
SARAH JOHNSON, Reading the Past, September 26, 2010
Conceit “had so much energy and verve–well, it had everything going for it–that it was hard to believe it was a first novel.”
“The fact is our literature has been too easily labelled and corralled into genres–not only children’s books but science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction and so on. Which is why the recent breakthroughs of Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean and Mary Novik’s Conceit, both historical fictions, are thrilling beyond measure.”
JOAN CLARK, author of Latitudes of Melt
“I’m reading a brilliant historical novel, Conceit, by Canadian Mary Novik, mostly about John Donne’s daughter. From one jury: ’Like Girl With a Pearl Earring, Conceit is a vivid and intelligent novel with a complex female character at its heart.’ Her prose reminds me of Year of Wonders. I’m blown away”.
SANDRA GULLAND, author of Mistress of the Sun
“Few novels truly deserve the description ‘rollicking’ in the way Mary Novik’s Conceit does. A hearty, boiling stew of a novel, served up in rich old-fashioned story-telling. Novik lures her readers into the streets of a bawdy seventeenth-century London with a nudge and a wink and keeps them there with her infectious love of detail and character. A raunchy, hugely entertaining read that will leave you at once satiated and hungry for more.”
GAIL ANDERSON-DARGATZ, author of The Cure for Death by Lightening
“In this gorgeous, startling, deeply moving novel about the family of the poet John Donne, the mind is shown to be one of the body’s most erogenous zones. A feast, a pageant, a seduction of words.”
THOMAS WHARTON, author of Icefields
“A vivid and sensuous tale set in the world where passion and death are never far apart.”
EVA STACHNIAK, author of Garden of Venus
“Read Conceit not for its foods and flowers and silks and seductions–though these are here in all their lusty Elizabethan richness–but for its prose. . . . Novik’s writing couples the sacred and the sexy as neatly as Donne’s own.
ANNABEL LYON, author of The Golden Mean
“I loved Conceit, the fully formed characters, the wonderfully evoked historical setting, but above all the passion that informs the narrative throughout. The writing is graceful and fluid and the rhythms remain with you long after you have put the book down. It would do the novel little justice to speak of it as merely a work of historical fiction. It is better described as a glorious exploration of the human heart.”
BÉA GONZALEZ, author of The Mapmaker’s Opera
“In the footsteps of Pepys and Stow, Mary Novik opens our eyes to London as it really was. I thought I knew a lot about this ancient city until I read Conceit. This is as close as we’re ever likely to come to being present at the burning of old St. Paul’s. Buy it– smell the smoke–and what lay hidden beneath the smoke.”
“Like Izaak Walton and Dr. Samuel Johnson before her, she explores the life–and death–of John Donne, that curious clergyman whose effigy still stands wrapped in his shroud, even though the church that once contained it was long ago made ashes. Her book joins the ranks of those select few authors–Peter Ackroyd, for one–whose books convey an abiding love of London, and what lies beneath.”
ALAN BRADLEY, author of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie at The National Post and other sites
“Conceit is a remarkable novel in its achievement, in its ability to capture the greys of its characters and utilise that Dickensian quality Frye talked about, of creating and writing characters who are so far from reality that they read as more real than if they’d been written less fantastically. The prose is organic, mystical almost, and while it’s no conventional book aiming to please, it’s worth reading for the historical depth of detail, the exploration of one of England’s most famous poets, and for a walk down a new and unfamiliar path if you’re willing to let Pegge lead the way.”
SHANNON at Goodreads.com
“Forget your high-school textbook anthologies! Mary Novik’s Conceit is nothing like that! Hers is a brilliant and complex work featuring a sparkling cast of characters who step off the page as breathing–yea, sometimes panting.”
CIPRIANO at BookPuddle
“This is a superbly discreet novel about Pegge Donne, a daughter of John Donne. It is a wonderful portrait in which the figure of John Donne also looms large in a setting believably evoked through well researched, unobtrusive detail. . . .The language of the novel is exemplary; several times a paragraph struck me as among the best I’d ever read. . . . Since I’ve a great interest in film I’ve spent some time since reading Conceit speculating on who I’d want to play the various roles; Pegge & John Donne would be plum roles & much could done with the scenes at St. Paul’s burning during the Great Fire wherefrom Pegge retrieves the great effigy of her father. There is high drama at times but mostly it details Pegge’s spiritual character & her relationships with her Father, Mother, Brothers, Sisters, Husband, & “friend” Isaac Walton. It is well worth reading.”
JOHN CAMFIELD, posted on Amazon
“I’m not sure what to say about Mary Novik’s novel Conceit. Brilliant and expertly written, the varied perspectives feel authentic and distinct; the characters who inhabit those perspectives are fully conceived and delivered. . . . As I turned the last page at 3 a.m. this morning, I couldn’t help feeling I’d just visited an alien world in which many of my opinions about the legendary Dean of St. Paul’s were turned upside down. And, perhaps, I had done.”
INKSLINGER at The Overdecorated Bookcase
“Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed Conceit, Mary. It was stunning; so many fabulous scenes, your incredibly smooth writing–and the early scene with Pegge and Izaak fishing with her bodice–humorous and brilliant!”
PAM GROSS BARNSLEY on Facebook
“Conceit fully engaged me in Pegge’s world, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves historical novels that are intellectually challenging. It’s also a wonderful study of the complexities of the father-daughter relationship.”
CARIOLA at LibraryThing
It’s a wonderful book by a first time author, it has a great mood and tone. It’s a wonderful take on 17th-century British history. Several authors have come in our store and I’ve recommended it them and they’ve loved it, and I’m sure Canada will love it too.
RUSSELL FLOREN, manager of The Bookery in St. John’s, Newfoundland, nominating Conceit for Canada Reads Top 40
Conceit is a rare historical novel that allows the reader to feel immersed in a time period, learn some history, and enjoy the story all at once.
Dana Huff at Much Madness is Divinest Sense
“Readers who admire a Donne very different from this Conceited one can spy him through the caricature and may take pleasure in the double effect.”
MARGARET MAURER, John Donne Journal, No. 28 (2009), pp. 163-167 (special issue on Donne sightings in contemporary literature).
“Conceit is a great novel based on a poor one, that is, Izaak Walton’s Life of Donne.”
JEANNE SHAMI, Wascana Review, Vol. 41, Nos. 1 & 2 (2006 ), pp. 131-138.
“There is much to recommend Conceit, not least the lovely prologue Novik has fashioned for her book. In it the reader follows the genesis and slow progress of the Great London Fire of 1666, the way it menaced and then devoured the better part of the city, turning people and all their works to ashes. This is the author’s own conceit, of course, of fire for human passion, its frightening beauty, momentum, and destructiveness; and like any good conceit it has a controlling influence over everything that follows.”
EDWARD O’CONNOR, The Fiddlehead, No. 238 (Winter 2009), pp. 98-100.
Vanora Bennett’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman and Mary Novik’s Conceit “are both inheritors of traditional forms and innovators of twenty-first century approaches . . . [adapting] the historical novel tradition to reflect the unease in twenty-first-century society.”
THERESA RAE BAKER, MA thesis, July 2009, University of Calgary
“True historical fiction buffs will love this book. It’s well researched and offers up rich historical detail on 17th-century England.”
ADULT CANADIAN BOOKS FOR STRONG TEENAGE READERS, review by University of Alberta, School of Library Studies, Spring 2009