Author: Sarah Dunant
Publish date: 2004
"Alessandra 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 Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter’s abilities.
But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra’s parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola’s reactionary followers. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra’s married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art.
The Birth of Venus is a tour de force, the first historical novel from one of Britain’s most innovative writers of literary suspense. It brings alive the history of Florence at its most dramatic period, telling a compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion, and power through the passionate voice of Alessandra, a heroine with the same vibrancy of spirit as her beloved city."
I wish I could remember where I got this book! I'm pretty sure it was at a library sale, but it could have been at one of the few used book stores that I peruse around town. Regardless, it was cheap and looked like an interesting historical fiction, so I picked it up. As you'll soon find out, I had mixed feelings about it.
The thing I liked most about The Birth of Venus was the setting of Florence. I love books in which the settings are like characters and this was no exception. I had never read a book set in that time period before and it was like everything I learned in my college history class come to life. Descriptions of art and architecture were fantastic.
It's hard to pinpoint specifically what I didn't like about the book, but I think it has to do with the length and how conveniently simple everything turned out to be. I think about 100 pages could have been shaved off, mostly from the lavish description of the most mundane parts of the novel. I was bored during some chapters, to be honest. Everything also seemed too easily wrapped up by the end, in terms of what happened to the characters. I suppose I was just disappointed with the actual plot.
Has anyone else read this? I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially since I feel that I just rambled on and on here.