Dvoryanova, Emiliya

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Emiliya Dvoryanova is associate professor of creative writing at New Bulgarian University. Music, philosophy and religion are the focus of her creative work: The House (a novel), Sofia: Areta Publishers, 1993; Passion, or the Death of Alice (a novel), Sofia: Obsidian Publishers, 1995 (winner of the Bulgarian Novel Award in 1996, published in France in 2006 by Federop Publishers); La Velata (a novella), Sofia: Fenea Publishers, 1998; Mrs. G (a novel), Sofia: Fenea Publishers, 2001; The Virgin Mary’s Earthly Gardens (a novel), Sofia: Obsidian Publishers, 2006; Concerto for Sentence: An Exploration of the Musico-Erotic, Sofia: Obsidian Publishers, 2008. She is also the author of Osven Literaturata (Sofia: Paradigma, 2011).  Emiliya Dvoryanova is one of the most widely published and read writers in contemporary Bulgarian literature. The Virgin Mary’s Earthly Gardens (2006) received the Hristo G. Danov National award for literature, and was published in France in 2010 (Les Jardins interdits, Aden 2010).


Synopsis of the novel Passion, or The Death of Alice by Emiliya Dvoryanova

The novel Passion, or the Death of Alice transports the reader into a cryptic atmosphere in which the criminal motif mingles with the erotic; mystery dissolves into reality; language, music, everyday life, and the spirit get in and out of the tangle of the art of the fugue. The novel consists of two parts – a prelude and a fugue. These two terms are not only a clear indication of the musical structure of the text, but they also build a bridge between the word “passion” in the title and Bach’s musical oeuvre. The novel’s polyphonic tissue, particularly prominent in the second part (in accordance with the musical model), cuts across all levels of the narrative – it is tangibly present in the themes and in the voices of the characters, each of whom promotes their own truth in the unfolding story. The first part (around 70 pages), is divided into three chapters (Io – Sebastian – Io), and presents the confessions-cum-statements of two of the main characters:  Io, the maid, and Sebastian, the elderly teacher of music and philosophy.

The second part of the novel (around 130 pages) features the investigator’s idiosyncratic inquiry. In only three days, he must unravel the mystery of overlapping voices, and make his way through the complex polyphony to the truth of the story.

A murder is committed on Good Friday. Alice is the victim. Once he arrives at the crime scene, X., the investigator, stays on in the home of the murdered woman and takes the witnesses’ statements amidst the baroque ‘Gothicism’ of the novel’s interiors, cramped with locked chests of drawers looking like coffins, de-silvered mirrors, self-disseminating stained-glass drawings, dolls, crosses, pianos, and self-emerging holes. X is confronted with the spontaneous confessions of Joseph – murderer, lover, and doll maker. Suddenly a uniformed policeman breaks into the house and issues an order that the investigation should be suspended until Easter: there is some kind of ploy here since the murder was committed on Good Friday, and myth has it that those murdered on that day will be resurrected on Sunday. The policeman commands that the body should be carried out, that everybody should stay in the house, and that the murderer should be locked in the kitchen. In the meantime, the investigator comes to realize that the clue to the mystery lies in Alice’s idiosyncrasies, in her bizarre life choices and acts of self-redemption, but it dawns on him that it is also to be found in one single word: ‘fugue’. The word recurs in all statements and he can’t really pin down its meaning.

How could one get over the absurdity of the act; how could one distinguish the disparate voices and moments amalgamated into the reality of this place, where all perspectives are reversed? And what does truth amount to in this world of reflections, where it is so hard to find the meaning of a word which would unravel the meaning of an occurrence?

In the unbearable anticipation of the Sunday, in the well-rounded emptiness between death and resurrection, the borderline between the world, the soul, and language merges into the heteroglossia of the fugue.

What is a fugue?

More and more flesh is added to Alice’s image through the stories of those who knew her, but also through the material world of the house, which seems to have preserved traces of her presence. These traces come and go, confronting X with questions that make any conventional method of inquiry inadequate.

Each of the novel’s characters builds up and develops their own version of “the Alice case.” The characters use the technique of counterpoint to reach towards the liminal space of revelation. Considered at first a mere victim of erotic passion, Alice is transfigured into the subject of polyphony, and the part of the Passion of Christ is assigned to her. Thus the fugue – the prime suspect in the novel – subsumes all human voices, along with the cracks and the clefts in their logic, in their knowledge and in their understanding, along with genuine and bogus acts of escape into redemption and revelation.

In Passion, or the Death of Alice, there are multiple layers behind the criminal motif. They gradually converge into the form of the fugue: they culminate in the painful quest for the Truth, which can become manifest in music rather than in words …

Emiliya Dvoryanova’s novel could actually be used as a test: whoever reads it as a whodunit novel is a lucky person; whoever reads it as a revelation about the burden of being a woman, of being human, has the misfortune of bearing a soul. Whatever the case, though, this book will not let its reader drop it, and it begins in the reader’s mind when it ends. Passion, or the Death of Alice has established itself as one of the most powerful and gripping Bulgarian novels of the last few decades.


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