A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
At first this appears to be a routine historical romance, but it soon deepens to something more, a realistic account of a relationship and it’s consequences. At the moment, speculating on Vivaldi’s life and interactions is trendy, a quick internet search reveals at least three other novels about him published in the last few years. It is understandable, considering he was a priest as well as composer and teacher and worked with the all female choir of one of Venice’s prominent orphanages.
In Palombo’s novel, Adriana becomes Vivaldi’s secret student, expanding on her talent for the violin, which her father has forbidden her to play after his wife’s death. The lessons soon lead to them becoming lovers, but when her father learns of it, packs her off to an arranged marriage. We follow Adriana’s life as she goes from a young idealistic woman to a middle-aged matron with children. Her encounters with Vivaldi and their effect on his work, tug at the reader’s heart.
Instead of being swept up in a passionate ending or melodramatic despair, we get a very real look at what boundaries guarded a woman’s life in the 1700’s. Like Girl With a Pearl Earring the strict limits on women’s possibilities are harsh, even for one of wealth, such as Adriana. How she learns to live within them and make peace with it all, is far more satisfying than a formulaic romance novel. I was glad that I’d pushed through my initial impression and followed what turned out to be a bittersweet story that lingered after turning the final page. Even better, it inspired me to listen to more of Vivaldi’s music, which is certainly a splendid coda.
St. Martin’s Griffin 2015 448 pp. ISBN-13:978-1250071491
This is one of those novels which revolve around a single object and the many people who are connected with it. In this instance, it is an oil painting, which may or may not be an Old Master, and some of the people within it’s orbit are a chef, a rapper, a museum guide, a wealthy widow and the heads of two different auction houses. Unlike many books with this sort of construction, the painting itself tells part of the story, though I realized partway through that the painting’s voice was remarkably like Miss Piggy at her most regal.
Through it’s existence, the painting has served as a talisman and more importantly, an aphrodisiac. Plucked off the shelf of a junk shop in modern London, the painting leads various characters through convoluted paths to obtain it, in order to preserve careers, solvency and family secrets. These narrative threads also serve as metaphors of what is considered valuable in one’s life, but not in an obvious way. It was quite enjoyable to follow the characters through the story and the twists and tangles they found themselves in. With such an array of characters, some of them could have become flat or indistinct, but Rothschild fleshes them out as individuals and even adds humor to their interactions.
The book starts with a few too many characters all at once, but the reader soon learns what ones to watch and it’s well worth the effort to see how this layered story plays out.
Knopf 2015 416 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1101874141