review: the birth of venus

5 07 2009

I decided to take a break from my recent diet of mysteries and turn to some historical fiction, but in spite of my good intentions, the opening scene of the novel introduces a mystery that isn’t resolved until the conclusion of the novel.

Durant’s The Birth of Venus is set in Florence during the Renaissance.  Alessandra Cecchi is a young girl, with a mind of her own and a yearning for freedom and a thirst for knowledge and art that conflicts with a woman’s expected role during this period.  Her father brings home a painter to work on the frescoes in her family’s chapels and Alessandra is immediately drawn to him.  Their love story takes place against the backdrop of fundamentalist monk Savonarola’s rise and fall in Florence.

The novel had a few twists and turns, but nothing that was entirely unexpected.  The sense of mystery that was built in the opening scene didn’t carry out throughout the novel, and the horrific murders that are described in the novel and which could have put the story into the thriller category didn’t seem to be as developed or as present as I expected they might be.  The characterization of Alessandra is strong and there are some interesting relationships, though the most interesting to me was the one between Alessandra and her servant, Erila.  The descriptions of religious extremism and suppression were also strong and probably the most interesting element of the novel for me.

Next up: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

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