Monday, July 1, 2013

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant (2006)

I'm traveling to Italy this week (for twelve days!), so the last few weeks I've read nothing but Italian history or novels set in Italy.  In the Company of the Courtesan was set in Venice -a  city I'm not visiting - during the end of the High Renaissance.  It is absolutely engaging and delightful, with expected main characters (basically a high class whore and her pimp, who is a dwarf), and some really interesting twists and turns. Two characters are actual historical figures (I'm not going to reveal which ones, only because I was so pleasantly surprised to find out their actual existence in history.  I think the history is dead on - Dunant's Venice seems incredibly dirty, vibrant and alive (and her sack of Rome scenes are the beginning are excruciatingly real.  Some of the plot frays out a bit, and isn't very even.  Who cares - the brilliant characters simply overpower the plot.  Dunant reminds me of a lustier, lewder Philippa Gregory.  Like Gregory's books, once you are hooked, you madly read until the end.

In the Company of the CourtesanIn the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A perfect summer read, especially if you (like me) are traveling to Italy.  Dunant's writing reminds me a lewder, lustier Philippa Gregory.  The main characters - a high class courtesan and her pimp, a dwarf who narrates the story - are delightfully real.  If she seems a bit shallow - that's probably because she's written that way; he seems more alive, but definitely a dark narrator.  So the plot frays a bit here and there; the dancing at the edge of soap opera characters simply overpower the plot with their presence.  Venice at the end of the High Renaissance is lovingly portrayed, with all its filth and money and glamor; Dunant's opening descriptions of the sack of Rome are brutally realistic and fascinating.  Like Philippa Gregory's best works, this is one you fall deeply into and keep madly reading until the very end.

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