Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

Last fall I read and reviewed Sarah Dunant's latest book "The Blood and the Beauty", a book I thoroughly enjoyed. I have always been a fan of Dunant finding her historical fiction easy to read, enjoyable and always well researched. So I sought this one out for no reason other than I wanted to read more of her work and had somehow missed this one published back in 2007.

Essentially this one is the story of a famous beauty Fiametta Bianchini and her sidekick business manager, companion, and friend Bucino Teodoldi the dwarf. Bucino narrates the story, and his point of view is what makes this one so much fun.  Together with Tiziano Vecellio (a thinly veiled Titian) they provide us with the male point of view on this distinctly female occupation.

The story opens in Rome in 1537 as the Catholic city is being overrun by Protestant hordes from outside the country.  Fiametta and Bucino escape to Venice where Fiametta grew up.  They have only her collection of jewels (which they managed to swallow !!!!) to support them.  In Rome, she had been a well-known, well-regarded and very wealthy courtesan, entertaining royalty, businessmen and not a few Cardinals of the church.

In Venice, she must begin again. Bucino goes about finding them living quarters, working space, and all the accoutrements needed to maintain the lifestyle she must project to be successful in her calling. She was well trained by her mother for this life, and knows her worth.

Up to about the middle of the book, the pace moves along, we are able to empathize with the characters, and look forward to a reasonable conclusion.  At some point though, the story begins to unravel.  It becomes less linear, and the reader is left to stumble along trying to keep track of several different story lines and characters. For instance, I never could get a clear handle on the character of Elena "La Draga" Crusichi.  Was she simply a servant, a healer, a sorceress, WHAT?  Her side story seems to come out of nowhere, and I'm not quite sure how it fits.

In spite of the crazy plot pattern, it's still a good read.  It gives a good picture of Venice and a well-researched story of the art of the courtesan, but it presented a fuzzy finale that left me frustrated.  In short,  I found the ending particularly disappointing and that colored my overall perception of the work.

Title: In The Company of the Courtesan
Author: Sarah Dunant
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (2007), 385 pages  
Genre: Historical Fiction
Subject: Prostitution
Setting: Venice, 1500-1600
Source: Public library
Why did I read this book now?  I like the author and it was available on the library shelf.


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