Monday, 30 September 2013

Review: The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant



'Turning fifteen in Renaissance Florence, Alessandra Cecchi becomes intoxicated with the works of a young painter whom her father has brought to the city to decorate the family's Florentine palazzo.'

Sarah Dunant brings Renaissance Florence to life, exploring Alessandra's life and marriage under the influence of fundamentalist monk Savonarola who's political power and religious influence are changing the city. Beautifully written and easy to read, The Birth of Venus starts off as a fantastically vivid novel. The first chapter was written beautifully in a way that captured my attention and made me itching to read the rest of the book. Sarah Dunant paints pictures with her words- the images of Florence and the information about the clothes and colours she provides are rich and incredibly detailed, which seems to suit the nature of Alessandra's story telling. This can at times get a bit repetitive, especially in reference to the religious motivations behind art. But, again, even that fits, as Alessandra captures the changing spirit of the city of Florence in the closing years of the fifteenth century. Dunant's historical research is also evidence (and I have to admit that accurate historical knowledge always improves a book for me).

And then the last third ruined it all for me. The conclusions and decisions that Alessandra came to in her life did not satisfy me at all. I felt that there were certain elements that were too contrived, and that Alessandra would not really be happy with the way events happened. What she said and what she did sometimes differed through the book, and sometimes I felt that the character was being manipulated to cause plot developments to suit the authors whim. And by the end of the book, I was distinctly unsatisfied. This feeling has definitely affected the rating I have given the book, of 6 stars, which would have been much higher, I feel, if events after the receipt of the letter had taken a different turn. Like I said, 6 stars despite a strong start. I would definitely be interested in reading other works by Sarah Dunant, if only for the way she writes.

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