Add a conniving servant and his amoral master; a murderous priest and his equally homicidal sidekick; an odious mother-in-law; a beautiful but barren wife wed to an ancient attorney; and a potion brewed from the root of the Mandragora, a plant alleged to help women conceive, and you have a prescription for pandemonium, especially when Mandragora (known in less reputable circles as “God’s Little Joke”), possesses a fatal flaw: after a woman drinks the potion, her body becomes a temple of poison. The first man to have sex with her will be dead in seven days. What's a man to do?
Filled with bawdy and irreverent wit, outrageous situations, characters it would be unwise to invite for dinner, and lots of good old-fashioned belly laughs, this highly literate and sophisticated satire is a joy to read from start to satisfying—and most surprising!—finale.
Based on The Mandrake, notorious Niccolò Machiavelli’s Italian Renaissance comedy, Mandragora is the only novel ever created—even after five centuries—from his famous (some say infamous) play.
What schemes are hatched when a young and wealthy dandy is tempted by his mischievous servant with the possibility of a lecherous conquest in Florence? A barren wife, flea-bitten partners in crime and the eventual culmination in a drink of the Mandragora brew; that cures as well as kills.
Mandragora is inspired by the Renaissance comedy, The Mandragora, penned by Niccolò Machiavelli and is apparently the only novel written based on that play.
The novel is set in the Renaissance, mainly in Florence, and involves the machinations of a servant, Siro, and his master, Callimaco Cagliostro. Together, they hatch a plan to bed the young, and apparently barren, wife of an aging Florentine lawyer, Nicia Calfucci.
I have not had much exposure to ribald fiction, and the lack was my main incentive to read Mandragora. Along with my equally missing experience with the play on which it is based, this possibly leaves me without some of the foundation required to critique it in depth. However, I shall try to couch it in terms with which I am familiar.
To me, the plot and the characters somewhat resembled Blackadder, the television series written by Richard Curtis and Ben Elton for the comedy genius of Rowan Atkinson. I loved the series and reading this novel was like reliving the antics anew. The plot to bed the young and beautiful Lucrezia under the very nose of her husband is bound to become convoluted. The debauched accomplices who join our Casanova hero in his lecherous scheme provide a filthy and humourous sideshow.
The doddering and impotent Calfucci, the imperious Sostrata and the innocent but canny Lucrezia provide the obstacle course through which our ill-matched gaggle of conspirators must navigate. And when the Mandragora poison/cure is introduced and Lucrezia acquiesces the twist is revealed and lust becomes love which becomes lust.
Our cast is, in general, a set of caricatures, required to elicit the appropriate raised-eyebrow response as their exaggerated exploits are related.
Calimacco, our Casanova, is handsome, used to getting any woman that he desires, and easily corrupted by his devious servant. Siro, the silver-tongued, lives for intrigue and the service of his master. It is around him that the story pivots to an extent, as he is the instigator. In the story, we discover whether his naughty scheming is to be rewarded or punished. The other key character, in my mind, is the beautiful Lucrezia. Pure and religious, a virgin perceived as barren, whose awakening to desire parallels smutty adolescent jokes about Catholic girls gaining sexual independence. She is the trophy, but she's also the judge and jury of both Calimacco and Siro.
The supporting cast of scoundrels and dupes add to the spectacle. In particular, Ligurio's pervasive mis-speakings often coaxed a giggle from me.
The writing attempts a flourish of allusion and wit and largely succeeds. The phrases circle the meanings rather than issuing clear statements and the more filthy topics are often implied rather than described. It's a style that probably coaxes the dirtier parts of the reader's mind, to meet the narrative half-way and elaborate in privacy on what is unwritten - the reader now an accomplice in the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of the prose.
I liked Mandragora. It isn't politically correct in any sense and you can't help feeling a little dirty after reading it. However, it's a guilty pleasure that has intelligence behind it; an homage to a style of ribald story-telling, written with flair and a more sophisticated turn of phrase. I enjoyed my little detour into literary lechery and I think others that don't mind indulging that secret desire for a little snigger and sass will enjoy it too.
3.5 stars. As the synopsis says, this book is based on Machiavelli's comedy, The Mandrake. I had no clue that Machiavelli wrote a comedy! I only knew that he wrote The Prince, a decidedly less happy story. Reading Mandragora made me think that I definitely need to go back and read Machiavelli's The Mandrake to see what it was like. It's still so eye-opening to me that he wrote comedy! Mandragora is a very funny book with some interesting characters.
The book starts out a bit slowly but then it gathers steam rather quickly and turns into a nice story with a lot of humor in it. Some of the book is a bit outlandish but this is, of course, a satire so it definitely works here in this story! The book reminds me a lot of a Mel Brooks movie. Some of the humor is a little naughty and therefore, it might not be for everyone. That sense of humor is right down my alley though so I ate this book up!
There were a lot of funny characters in the book that I really liked. I love a book that can make me laugh and there were definitely some moments that had me giggling quite a bit. The characters get themselves into really crazy situations
The real star of this book is the writing. I think it can be really difficult to write things in such a way that the humor shines through but the author succeeds in this endeavor!
Overall, if you're looking for a story to make you laugh, this is it!!!