Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family's Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter's abilities.
But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra's parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola's reactionary followers. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra's married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art. The Birth of Venus is a tour de force, the first historical novel from one of Britain's most innovative writers of literary suspense. It brings alive the history of Florence at its most dramatic period, telling a compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion, and power through the passionate voice of Alessandra, a heroine with the same vibrancy of spirit as her beloved city.
This is an obvious fit for those who've enjoyed other historical novels with an artistic bent, such as those by Susan Vreeland and Tracy Chevalier, and will doubtless be a popular book club choice. However, expect a little more harsh reality and a little less romance in Durant's book. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
The Washington Post - David Liss
Dunant has injected a kind of realpolitik into the genre, making it far more poignant and interesting.
Children's Literature - Elisabeth Greenberg
The conflicts of the priest Savonarola with his city and the Pope create a wonderful background for a coming-of-age story, but this book can be recommended only to the most mature young adult reader as it discusses explicitly sexual encounters, syphilis epidemics, religious murders, and suicide. Ages 13 up.
Dunant's vivid, gripping novel gives fresh life to a captivating age of glorious art and political turmoil. Dunant's foray into historical fiction (she is best known for her literary suspense novels) will inevitably be compared to Girl with a Pearl Earring. Chevalier readers will certainly enjoy the novel, though its meatier historical background and more robust prose style set it apart.
No real surprises in the romance department, but the depiction of Florence as Tehran under the Ayatollah is an eye-opener.
Booklist - Elsa Gaztambide
Dunant's lush and intellectually gripping novel is set in fourteenth-century Florence at the height of the Renaissance....This is a beautifully written and captivating work.
Library Journal - Jean Langlais
Like Susan Vreeland's The Passion of Artemisia and John Faunce's Lucrezia Borgia, Dunant's latest profiles a strong Renaissance woman making bold choices to find fulfillment in constrained circumstances. Highly recommended.
The Independent (London)
It's to Dunant's credit that the vast quantities of historical information in this book are deployed so naturally and lightly....On the simplest level, this is an erotic and gripping thriller, but its intellectual excitement also comes from the way Dunant makes the art and philosophy of the period look new and dangerous again....Theology has rarely looked so sexy.
The Times (London)
No one should visit Tuscany this summer without this book. It is richly textured and driven by a thrillerish fever.
The Financial Times
[Dunant's] control, pace, and instinct are well-nigh impeccable.
The Telegraph (London)
Dunant has created a vivid and compellingly believable picture of Renaissance Florence the squalor and brutality; the confidence and vitality; the political machinations. Her research has obviously been meticulous....A magnificent novel.
Simply amazing, so brilliantly written...almost intolerably exciting at times, and at others, equally poignant.
Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire
Sarah Dunant has given us a story of sacrifice and betrayal, set during Florence's captivity under the fanatic Savonarola. She writes like a painter, and thinks like a philosopher juxtapositioning the humane against the animal, hope against fanaticism, creativity against destruction. The Birth of Venus is a tour de force.
A beautiful serpent of a novel, seductive and dangerous...full of wise guile, the most brilliant novel yet from a writer of powerful historical imagination and wicked literary gifts. Dunant's snaky tale of art, sex and Florentine hysteria consumes utterly–but the experience is all pleasure.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Gwen Taylor Worst book ever I felt this book is a waste of time not to mention paper. I was bored throughout and I felt that there was more personal details than anything else. I would never even wish my worst enemy to read this novel.
Rated of 5
by Alyvia Entertaining Read The only book in Florence that I could find in English, I wasn't expecting much when I picked up this slim book. I read the book, LOVED IT, and then went around the next day in Florence, pointing out to my sister all the various different... Read More
Rated of 5
by Rickee Captivating read As a teacher of literature, I spend most of my reading time stuck in the middle of one of the "classics," so this was a refreshing and thoroughly fun read. I read this slim volume in an afternoon and really regretted coming to the end of... Read More
Rated of 5
I truly enjoyed this book....not something I would have chosen but my book group did and I am very happy with the choice. I would recommend to all.
Rated of 5
Alright, I was absolutly captivated by this book. You felt as if by the end of the book you personally knew the main character, Alessandra. You feel like you just lived her life. Also, with the colorful backdrop of Florence during the Rennisance... Read More
Rated of 5
Don’t be fooled by its bestseller status—The Birth of Venus is a waste of your time. The characters are flat and unrealistic. The historical accuracy of the novel appears quite sketchy as well. Arguably the greatest theme of the book—the aesthetic... Read More
is a novelist, broadcaster and critic. After leaving
university she worked as an actress before starting work as a
producer for BBC Radio in 1974. She also presented Radio
4's 'Woman's Hour' and BBC Television's 'The Late Show'.
She lives in London.
Marla Masterson series (writing as Peter
Dunant with Peter Busby) Exterminating Angels (1983) Intensive Care (1986)
Hannah Wolfe. PI Mystery Series (won two
Silver Dagger awards) Birth Marks
(1991) Fatlands (1992 or 93) Under My Skin (1995)
A romp through the late 19th century chronicling the adventures - sexual and otherwise - of its beautiful heroine, Famke, from her childhood in a Copenhagen orphanage to her strange adventures in the American Wild West.
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