Donna's Reviews > In the Company of the Courtesan

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
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's review
Dec 27, 10

bookshelves: women-writers, italy
Read in December, 2010

In the Company of the Courtesan is another entry in the historical fiction genre, akin to Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring but not nearly as well written. Cunant's tale is the imagined backstory behind Titian's masterpiece Venus of Urbino.

As she brought to life 15th-century Florence in The Virth of Venus, Dunant re-creates the warren of canals, campos and piazzas that weave through 16th-century Venice. Dunant's tableaux of street life are vivid and lifelike; unfortunately, her characters are not.

In historical fiction particularly, I want the characters and plots to be plausible. Dunant's are not, particularly the dwarf Bucino's tardy and unrequited love for La Draga. And why even introduce the character of the Turk, when he only shows up at two highly improbable moments when a deus ex machina is required to save the drowning dward or buy him a night in the arms of his condemned beloved? Ditto, the converted Jew, whose only apparent purpose is to drop a clue about a stolen ruby. Even naming the cast of characters makes the novel sound absurd.

Still, I'm besotted with Renaissance Italy and Titian, and Dunant's novel gives me a fix of both that is well worth Border's $4.99 paperback cover price.
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