Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
from the publisher:
"Alessanra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel
walls in the family's Florence palazzo. A child of the Renaissance with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the artist's abilities.
But Alessandra's parents have made plans for their daughter, and she is soon married off to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, the reign of the Medicis, with their love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, is being threatened by the hellfire preaching and increasing brutality of the fundamenalist monk Savonarola and his reactionary followers. As the city shudders with violence and change, Alessandra must find her own way -- and finally explore the passions she's kept so long at bay."
I selected The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant in an effort to mix things up a bit in my reading. I tend to gravitate towards Victorian and Regency era novels, so finding a story of love, scandal and intrigue in 15th century Florence sounded fascinating to me. It was an interesting read, but.....
Alessandra's tale is her journey as an intellectual and artistic young lady in the male world of art, frescoes, and the classics, and her search for love without losing her own identity. Set against the backdrop of the birth of magnificent art for the glory of God, and the turbulent times of invasion and fire-and-brimstone preaching from a mad monk, her tale is part romance, part family secrets and deception, and part murder thriller.
So far, so good.....
The novel begins with what can only be described as a most provocative and shocking prologue; in a convent, while preparing a deceased nun's body for burial, a most hideous and startling discovery is made. It hooked me right away!
Unfortunately, it quickly shifted gears into approximately 160+ pages of very slow narrative. I kept hanging in there, thinking surely something must happen soon to tie into that fabulous prologue! My patience was rewarded, at long last, and the remaining two-thirds of the book was a page-turner, with lots of twists and turns and a stunning conclusion. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the first part of the book was left so bland...I was almost ready to give up on it. Glad I didn't.
Did anyone read Sacred Hearts or In the Company of the Courtesan? Any better?
Assuming that the title is meant to be symbolic of Alessandra's journey of self-discovery or "birth" of her own identity and talents, here is Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" in all its magnificence. Isn't it glorious?
Title: The Birth of Venus
Author: Sarah Dunant
Publisher: Random House
genre: historical fiction