Tracy Duvall's Reviews > The Decameron

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
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M_50x66
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Jan 11, 13

Read in May, 2010

You might suspect that this is a book to read because it's good for you and helpful to mention at wine-and-cheese parties. But it's a naughtily entertaining compendium of one hundred short tales wrapped within a touching scenario. Basically, to escape the horrors of the Black Death, ten well-to-do young adults from Florence, Italy, retire to the countryside for two weeks and, among otherwise chaste activities, tell each other bawdy tales.
When I praise this book, it is not because it tastes good compared to other medicines. My criteria are the same as I would use for a more recent work. Yet, while some of the stories fell flat, most were at least entertaining and quite a few were extraordinarily well executed.
The surprise was Boccaccio's narrative freedom. Some of the heroes are Muslim. All or almost all of the many priests and nuns in his stories were active hypocrites: seeking sexual encounters, bamboozling yokels for offerings, and so forth. Likewise, his characters quite frequently engage in extramarital sex for love or lust, and the reader is encouraged to sympathize with them. The sexual encounters can be fairly graphic, and Boccaccio's characters end up having homosexual relations; bisexual relations; long-term, heterosexual spouse-swapping relationships; and more -- all with his apparent sympathy. Honestly, the overwhelming number of women in his tales who enjoyed and quite actively sought out sex was a turn-on. (A few characters argue, in a turn-about from my expectations, that women might need more partners than men, since women can handle more encounters in a day.)
In short, it's a surprising, fun, and sometimes touching read.
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