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Empty Theatre: A Novel: or The Lives of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria (Queen of Hungary), Cousins, in Their Pursuit of Connection and Beauty... (Hardcover)
A wildly over-the-top social satire reimagining the mad misadventures of the iconic royal cousins King Ludwig and Empress Sisi, from the incomparable Jac Jemc.
History knows them as King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Elizabeth of Austria, icons of the late nineteenth century who died young and left behind magnificent portraits and palaces. But to each other they were Ludwig and Sisi, cousins who shared a passion for beauty and a stubborn refusal to submit to the roles imposed upon them.
Ludwig, simultaneously spoiled and punished for his softness and "unmanly" interests, falls hard for the operas of Richard Wagner and neglects his state duties in the pursuit of art. Sisi, married at the age of sixteen to her beloved Franzl, bristles at the restrictions of her elevated position, the value placed on her beauty, and the simultaneous expectation that she ravage her body again and again in childbirth. Both absurdly vain, both traumatized by the demands of their roles, Sisi and Ludwig struggle against the ideals they are expected to embody, and resist through extravagance, petulance, performance, and frivolity.
A tragicomic tour de force, Empty Theatre immerses readers in Ludwig and Sisi’s rarefied, ridiculous, restrictive world—where the aesthetics of excess belie the isolation of its inhabitants. With wit, pathos, and imagination, Jac Jemc takes us on an unforgettable journey through two extraordinary parallel lives and the complex, tenuous friendship that linked them.
About the Author
Jac Jemc is the author of False Bingo, The Grip of It, My Only Wife, and A Different Bed Every Time. My Only Wife was a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award, and her story collection False Bingo won the Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction, was a Lambda Award finalist, and was long-listed for the Story Prize. Jemc currently teaches creative writing at the University of California San Diego.
A Most Anticipated Book from the Washington Post, Chicago Review of Books, and the Orange County Register
“Sly [and] darkly comedic . . . Jemc brings a modern, quirky edge to a lavish historical tale.”
—Becky Meloan, Washington Post
"Modern and mythic, Empty Theatre captures the outrageous taste of an era while measuring the steep costs of our dream worlds."
—Katy Simpson Smith, the New York Times
"...what will grip readers in Empty Theatre are the intimate, human moments that color the lives of these monarchs... it recounts the lives of two one-in-a-lifetime characters, and leaves readers with a sense of possibility more than finality."
—Jon Roth, Esquire
"...one of the most engrossing and entertaining historical novels in recent memory."
—Seth Combs, The San Diego Union Tribune
"[A] lively work... Jemc seldom lacks for brio in portraying these inscrutable figures weighed down by their crowns and visions. The originality on offer is well worth the price of admission."
“[An] audacious social satire. Comedic, tragic, and all around entertaining, Empty Theatre is a welcome addition to Jemc’s bibliography.”
—Chicago Review of Books
"Surreal, witty, tongue-in-cheek, and distinctly singular, just like the subjects whose life it covers, this is not your mother’s historical fiction. Buckle up for a wild ride, and enjoy every second of it."
—David Vogel, BuzzFeed News
“Immediately enthralling . . . In this fantastical take on historical fiction, skillful yarnspinner Jemc . . . seamlessly blends fact and fiction, and her characteristically poetic prose shines through . . . Jemc's propulsive pacing, evocative concision, and the episodic structure make for quick reading. But the rapturous recounting of these fated characters' lives will buzz for some time in readers' minds.”
—Diego Báez, Booklist (starred review)
"Sensual, intricate, and filled with the verve of its own opulent language, Jemc’s retelling of these apocryphal lives delivers all the urgency of their time into our own without losing any of the fidelity it owes to their real legacies. This novel is a triumph."
—Kirkus (starred review)
"Like its playfully long title, Jemc’s novel gallops across the lives of Ludwig and Sisi, snorting at their royal duties with the irreverence of a wild horse... Both rockstarishly excessive, Ludwig and Sisi’s disinterest only makes their people love them more."
—Elizabeth McNeill, Electric Lit
“[This] entertaining tale reads like a mash-up of Jane Austen and The Great on hallucinogens.”
—Bethanne Patrick, Virtuoso
“A tragicomic tour de force, Empty Theatre immerses readers in Ludwig and Sisi’s world―where the aesthetics of extravagance belie the isolation of its inhabitants. Readers follow two rarified parallel lives and the complex, tenuous bond that linked them, told with empathy, humor and originality.”
—Emily St. Martin, Orange County Register
“Jac Jemc’s latest novel slithers through history to bring us a gloriously reimagined pair of hopeless, wounded dreamers, Empress Sisi and King Ludwig II. Bitterly comic and amusingly tragic scenes are linked together in a narrative as brilliant and beguiling as any of the glorious baubles desired by Ludwig himself. Brimming with wit, style, and grace, Empty Theatre is a satire ultimately as compassionate and sincere as this reader could wish. A tour de force.”
—Maryse Meijer, author of The Seventh Mansion
“I feasted on this novel like it was the most colorful, immaculately arranged spread of delights. Each one of these short chapters is bursting with the macabre intrigue and humor we’ve come to love in Jac Jemc’s work. Utterly delightful, entertaining, and riddled with fascinating historical embellishments and facts.”
—Fernando A. Flores, author of Valleyesque
"Jac Jemc’s dreamscape of a novel weaves history and imagination into a wonder world. Empty Theater is an ingenious and totally absorbing gambol through beauty, decadence, and the bizarre absurdities of lives spent in the dizzying clouds of royalty and pomp. Jemc is a writer of enviable talent and soulful intelligence."
—Samantha Hunt, author of The Dark Dark
“A brilliant, outrageous, page-turning social satire. The mad isolation and aesthetic bubble the royalty lives in become, through Jac Jemc’s glorious retelling, something so darling and vulnerable and, at the same time, monstrously idiotic. Oh, reader, you will follow the tragic paths of these monarchs as they chase melodies and butterflies to their graves, and feel yourself to be so much richer and freer afterward.”
—Heather O’Neill, author of When We Lost Our Heads
“A brilliantly and sensitively crafted novel, both epic and intimate in scope. I was captivated from the very first line.”
—Morgan Thomas, author of Manywhere