Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Book Review: In The Company of The Courtesan, by Sarah Dunant
Anyone who is fascinated by Venice (and who isn't?) will absolutely love In The Company of The Courtesan. Obviously, that’s not all that the book’s about (I’ll get to that in a moment…), yet; this important aspect cannot be mentioned lightly. The vivid details of the setting naturally propel you right into the moment. Depictions of the world as it was then, with Venice at its center; the glory, the fame, the beauty and all that was decadent as well- set the stage for an incredibly absorbing read…just the right setting for the story of a wondrous courtesan…
The story begins with Fiammetta Bianchini, a courtesan of the highest rank, servicing in the papal courts of Rome, having to flee when the city becomes invaded, and later destroyed, by Spaniard barbarians and German Lutherans. Barely surviving the barbaric scalpel and in order to avoid a torturous death, Faimmetta feigns a religious conversion in order to appease and distract the zealous fanatics. Together with her companion and business partner, a dwarf named Bucino, Fiammetta manages to escape and make way to her native Venice to start up her career fresh from scratch- Not an easy task…
A disheveled Fiammetta arrives in Venice looking scraggly, beaten, unfed, and besides being poor, famished and sick; she is an ‘unknown.’ How can she ever reclaim her notoriety as the most beautiful, learned, sensual and classiest courtesan in town? Both Fiammetta and her side-kick/manager/entertainer and man-à tout faire, Bucino, have a lot of work to do.
The story, told by Bucino, magically unravels as it takes you from one strange character to another; one more flamboyant than the next. A mysterious woman, with a strange deformity and extraordinary healing powers, named La Draga, enraptures both Fiammetta and Bucino into a web of intricacies that lead to fascinating consequences. There is definitely an element of mystery mixed with a clear sense of curiosity that keeps you edging on for more.
I absolutely loved reading about these colourful characters and their different lifestyles- and couldn’t help but totally adore Fiammetta. Bucino too, this engaging, sharp little man who stopped at nothing to ensure the best for ‘his Lady’ while taking care of business as a priority, was endearing to no end. Everything seemed so real. For all I know, this story could have actually happened. After all, Sarah Dunant includes real historical figures such as the famous painter Titian; Arletino the ‘reporter’ of the time- and, La Draga was an actual person as well.
As for Fiammetta, in this novel she was also Titian’s preferred goddess to paint, perfectly insinuating his authentic painting of The Venus of Urbino…where the model was said to be indeed a courtesan. Although she is but a fictional character, In The Company of The Courtesan will leave you wishing that Fiammetta really did exist… knack for business, flamboyance, joviality, free spirit, and all.
A truly delightful read. Loved it!
Posted by Lucy at 6:37 AM