Friday, May 29, 2009

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

This was my second try at this novel and it took this time. The first time I tried to read this I was put off by the prologue which describes the death of an elderly nun. For some reason it was distasteful to me, but this time it made sense. The Birth of Venus is set in 15th century Florence at a time of great upheaval. The main character is Alessandra Cecchi, a sixteen-year-old, headstrong, intelligent aspiring painter. When the story opens she is contracted in marriage to an older man. The marriage seems like it will be a perfect solution for both of them, as her husband Cristoforo needs an heir and Alessandra needs a husband who will allow her the freedom to paint, which Cristoforo does. However, all is not as it seems in their relationship and when a fiery monk, Savanarola, takes control of the city and institutes a suffocating crackdown on sin, their marriage and Florentine society begins to fall apart. Add to this mix Alessandra's love for a fellow painter and her husband's secret life and you get a very passionate and dramatic plot. I really loved reading about 15th century Florence and art and was mesmerized by the details of daily life during this time period. I was also pleased that the plot of this novel did not take the reader where you think it should go, but twisted to fit the reality of what would really happen to someone like Alessandra during this era. I plan to read the second novel in Dunant's Renaissance trilogy, In the Company of the Courtesan, within the coming weeks and hope it will be as satisfying.

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