Young Italian girl
weds to gain freedom to paint,
Good historical fiction transports the reader to a place and time that cannot be accessed any other way. And Sarah Dunant, the author of The Birth of Venus, does exactly that.
From the first few pages, I was in Renaissance Italy.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that I could easily picture it. A few years back, I spent three weeks in Italy with my beloved father-in-law. We lived for 10 days in the top floor apartment of a 400-year-old stone house just down the street from Santa Croce in Florence.
The house had been owned by the same family for most of its history, if not all, and different members of the family lived in other apartments tucked in here there among the massive structure. The apartments available for rent were managed by the family's 20-something daughter, a lovely girl in a timeless linen skirt whose sandaled feet slapped against the marble stairs as she scampered up and down four or five flights with no effort.
The house was furnished simply, but you might stumble across a hand-made prie dieu in a side hall whose wood was dark with years, and the armoire in our apartment creaked open and smelled of the must of centuries. Most evenings, I curled into the wide stone windowsill to watch the sun set in golden tones across the clay rooftops.
So when Birth of Venus opened with the scene of a young girl, curled in the stone windowsill of her four-story home to watch history unfold below her, I was immediately there. I was the young girl.
As it progressed, however, it failed to suck me into the story. I didn't like Alessandra very much, for one thing. She was too whiny and self-centered.
I also didn't find the love story very credible. Although Dunant told us Alessandra found "the painter" fascinating, she failed to show him that way. Certainly, I didn't find him fascinating. I found him a bit repugnant.
And I was seriously annoyed that Dunant never referred to him by name but seemed to give hints about who the real-life painter was. I spent precious time I'd like back trying to figure out which famous, historical painter he was supposed to be before I finally decided it just a trope.
Overall, I know many people who adored this book. And I would recommend it for the experience of living in Renaissance Florence. But as a story? I've read better.