Tag Archives: Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant (unabridged audiobook read by Rosalyn Landor; 15 hrs on 12 discs): When a particularly defiant novice, Serafina, is forced to join the convent of Santa Caterina, dispensary mistress Suora Zuana is sent to sedate her. Thus begins a friendship between two women living in a 16th century Italian convent. The descriptions of daily life are exquisitely detailed and often painfully direct. One of Dunant’s greatest talents is her ability to create multifaceted female characters who remained rooted in the time period in which they live, not anachronistically updated to fit contemporary sensibilities. If you enjoyed Dunant’s other historical novels, you’ll probably like this one. I did.

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant (unabridged audiobook read by Stephen Hoye; 14 hrs on 12 discs): Our story begins with the 1527 sack of Rome, and famous courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini is readying her household for the soldiers’ arrival. She and her dwarf companion Bucino, who narrates this tale, flee to Venice to start their lives over again. The description pulls no punches, as it were, laying it all bare without nary a euphemism in sight. But it’s not just crudeness and filth that is described this way, but great beauty and purity is as well. All in all, a sumptuous presentation of Renaissance Italy as told through the eyes of a cranky dwarf. I wish there had been more plot – I would have liked to know more about what happened to the Jew and the Turk, for example, and that more ends had been tied up by the end – but I suppose that isn’t always possible with first-person narration, and the looseness of the story did make it feel more realistic. I especially appreciated the historical notes at the end, explaining which characters were based on real people and where things deviated from fact. It appears there’s nearly as much history as fiction in this historical novel. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more by Dunant.

A note on the audio: Hoye was just okay. He didn’t really do any distinct character voices, which is fine, but he also didn’t pause enough between speakers so sometimes dialogue ran together and I lost track of who was speaking. And while I roll my eyes at people who insist on British accents for any English-language film not taking place in America, this book probably would have sounded better read by an Englishman. It seems to have been written with that cadence in mind.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant: This is not a book I would have ordinarily picked up. I’d heard it was kind of like Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, but it’s really not at all. Yes, it’s about a woman and a painter in Europe, but that’s about where the similarity ends. In truth, I have no idea where the title comes from, except that it’s a famous painting from the same era. Anyway, this is the life story of Alessandra Cecchi, an unusually well-educated Florentine woman in the Renaissance. Her whole life she has dreamed of becoming an artist, but such things are not considered proper for a woman. Though she is irresistibly drawn to a painter hired to paint her family’s chapel, her parents marry her off to a much older man. At the same time, the brutally fundamentalist monk Savonarola has come to power, bringing terror to the city under the guise of piety.

This is an extremely passionate and graphic book. Everything is described in vivid detail, from the violence to the sex to the art. If you can handle the mental images, this is a marvelously written story. Alessandra is a believable and sympathetic narrator, progressive and intelligent without being anachronistic. The story is compelling, sometimes suspenseful, often thought-provoking. There were times when I had a lot of trouble putting it down. I will definitely be looking up Dunant’s other works.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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