Thursday, July 15, 2010

"The Birth of Venus" by Sarah Dunant

Title: The Birth of Venus
Author: Sarah Dunant
Published: Random House Trade, 2003
Where I Got It: The library
Why I Read It: It was recommended to me on Yahoo! Answers, of all places

This review can also be found here.

Wow. I picked The Birth of Venus up from the library on my way home from school one day and read it from cover to cover in four hours (completely ignoring my homework). I can only think of one or two other times that a book has captivated me that easily.

The book follows Alessandra Cecchi, a teenager in Italy during the late 15th century, the peak of the Renaissance. Her father brings home a young painter from northern Europe who is commissioned to paint and decorate the family's chapel. Alessandra, who loves art herself, is entranced by this mysterious painter (and I do mean mysterious, we never learn this guy's name!). Before anything else can happen, Alessandra's parents suddenly marry her off to a much older man, a man who hides a dark secret. In the mean time, Savonarola, a monk who destroyed what he believed to be immoral art, held book burnings (!), and ranted and raved about numerous other things, is raising hellfire in Florence. The city faces destruction and waves of change. Along the way, Alessandra grows up, deals with life, and still finds herself drawn to this painter.

One reason I enjoyed this book as much as I did is the fact that Alessandra is so likable. She has the three S's: she's sarcastic, smart and strong (well, as strong as a woman in the Middle Ages could be).

Several things still puzzled me. The first was the language. The slang and curse words seem very 21st century....words that I'm not sure were casually thrown around in the 1400s. The second is the identity of the painter. Like I said before, we never find out his name (in effect, he's only called 'The Painter'), but just who is he? We are led to believe that he became someone famous, a person we ourselves would have known and learned about in school. If anyone has any idea, please throw out your guesses, it's killing me!

All in all, the story, setting, characters, and events are brilliant. There is humor, drama, sadness and love. I will say that there was a semi-graphic sex scene that was entirely too awkward, especially when you find out later details. Luckily, the good far outweighs the bad!

I don't throw 5 stars around easily, but this deserves it. In fact, 5+ stars.

5 comments:

  1. I have this book on my shelf. Thanks for such a great review!

    Hop hop hop, happy reading!

    Twisted!

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  2. This is one of my very favorite books. Sarah is who helped me fall in love with historical fiction :)

    Last year we got to meet her at an author event and I wrote a review for her book.

    Feel free to stop by our blog if you'd like to check it out.

    Thanks,
    ♥Isalys

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  3. I read this awhile ago and forgot the name of it just remembered author's name. Wasn't the painter Michaelangelo? It was never stated, but we were led to believe that. I read or tried to read one of her contemporary novels and didn't like it.

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  4. I don't agree that the painter was Michelangelo. It was my understanding that Michelangelo was the leader of that secret art club that Alessandro's painter would sneak off to meet with at night. Michelangelo was the one who sculpted the beautiful crucifix that made the painter so jealous because he knew he could never create something so beautiful himself.

    Anyway, I don't know who The Painter may be. Before I read it, I thought he might be Botticelli, who painted that most famous Birth of Venus painting, but Botticelli is mentioned several times in the book and is obviously not The Painter. It is my take that The Painter is a fictional character. But I sure would like to be able to ask the author!

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  5. I too would have a problem with the painter being Michaelangelo....Alessandra's lover being him and her father being one of the Medicis? (I can't remember who specifically.) That's a little too much.
    I don't think it's Botticelli, he would have been significantly older than the painter was in the book.
    I just feel that because we never got a name, he's someone semi-famous. Maybe not. The only part of this book that I didn't like!

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