by Sarah Dunant
Inspired by Titian’s famous painting, The Venus of Urbino, this is the story of Roman courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini as told by her dwarf companion, Bucino Teodoldi. Together they flee the sack of Rome in 1527 and head to Fiametta’s mother’s house in Venice. Upon arrival they find the house empty and their funds exhausted, and so must hastily come up with a scheme to launch Fiametta’s “services” to the wealthy Venetians. A healer is employed to restore the courtesan’s beauty while Bucino makes important connections about the city.
Once Fiametta is established, the story turns from her plight and centers on the healer, Elena Crusichi, also called La Draga. While there isn’t a particular historical event highlighted, other than the small view of the sack of Rome in the beginning, there are numerous minor characters and mentions of note, including the painter Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) and the writer Pietro Aretino. La Draga’s story becomes haunting near the end, and though the book didn’t end as I’d have guessed, it was beautifully done.
I listened to the abridged audio version, though followed along in my paperback copy, reading the bits and pieces left out. The narrator did a wonderful job in making Bucino sound noble and intelligent, though his Aretino was a bit loud. I wouldn’t say this novel is an introductory type read, but does give a nice description of Venice and the surrounding islands. I enjoyed it for its quirky and endearing characterizations, and the twist near the end that ties up loose strings.