Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Wager Review (Donna Jo Napoli)

Don Giovanni is no beggar. A few months ago he was the wealthiest and handsomest young man in Messina, until a tidal wave washed away everything he owned. Though he's now homeless and poor, he still has his pride - and his good looks. Yet winter is coming, and Don Giovanni has nowhere to go, nothing to eat.

When a well-dressed stranger offers him unlimited wealth in exchange for a simple-sounding wager, Don Giovanni knows he shouldn't take it. Only the devil would offer a deal like this, and only a fool would accept. But Don Giovanni is desperate. Against his better judgment he enters into a deal with the devil: he will not change his clothes or bathe for three years, three months, and three days.

Beauty is a small price to pay for worldly wealth, isn't it? Unless Don Giovanni loses the wager - and with it, his soul.

The Wager is based off of an old Sicilian fairy tale, so you can assume that Don Giovanni actually does make a bargain with the devil. But that is as far as this book goes toward supernatural/magic content.

It has been a long time since I've read one of Donna Jo Napoli's books. I remember most of her stories with fondness and a little frustration toward her characters. Don Giovanni is aggravating, but The Wager is one of those tales where you don't particularly care for any of the characters (except Cani, his dog). You read it out of curiosity, and you finish it out of curiosity. I didn't care what happened to Don Giovanni, I didn't particularly feel sorry for him, and I didn't dislike him, either. It was very difficult, for some reason, to attach to Don Giovanni in any manner.

Which may partially be why this is a book that is difficult to get through. But it isn't the only reason. The Wager is not a book you should read while you are eating a meal, or if your stomach is empty. The whole premise of the story is how Don Giovanni copes with not bathing, changing his clothes, or combing his hair for three years, three months, and three days. Donna Jo Napoli likes detail, and when a story's premise is about someone who doesn't bathe for that long, you can imagine where her detail focuses. Dirt. Filth. Stench. The resulting effect on a person's physical health when they don't wash. It would turn anyone's stomach. On top of that, the devil finds various ways to make Don Giovanni's filth increase, and there is a particular incident that is really disgusting. I had to stop reading because my stomach was so hungry, and it was turning to a degree that threatened to make me physically sick.

That, unfortunately, isn't the only content. Don Giovanni loves women, and everyone seems to give themselves freely to him. While there are no actual sexual scenes, there is lots of alluding to past relationships, as well as pleasant feelings compared to physical, intimate contact with a woman. Most of this is in the beginning of the book, and it isn't terribly explicit, but it is worth noting.

The Wager was an interesting story, but I don't think I'll buy it, and I certainly won't read it again. Definitely not for weak stomachs.
Star Rating: 2/5 (it was ok)


  1. It sounds very strange and not something I think I would particularly enjoy.

  2. lol Certainly not if you are trying to eat breakfast.


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