Published by Random House on November 30th, 2004
Genres: Historical Fiction
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.
Aw, man… this book had me quite pleased, and I was well enjoying it, until the unraveling at the ending. Boo.
We begin this book with a young girl, in the flourish of a beautifully described, beautifully constructed Medici Florence, and are treated to wonderfully written aspects of the artistry and ambiance of the magnificent heart of the Renaissance.
Our protagonist, Alessandra Cecchi, is a skilled artist and painter in her preadolesence, and comes face to face with the intoxicating intrigue of the art world when her father employs a painter to handle the family chapel – a painter that Alessandra cannot keep away from. Though I found Alessandra’s relationship with her family to awkwardly difficult to relate to, the tale moved forward with the potential for great interest – the main character is soon married to a man who turns out to be both what she could most desire in a mate yet entirely ill-suited for her, and she still bears a passionate interest for a painter patronized by her family, all while the very foundation of Florence thunders and shakes with violence and the tyranny of Savanarola. For this reason, I dove into this book with great pleasure and interest.
Sure, the plot was fairly predictable, and so conspicuously foreshadowed, but for the majority, I welcomed the inevitable ‘plots twists’. But when you go “Surprise! You’re the unknown lovechild of none other than Lorenzo de Medici!”, your credibility goes out the window with me. Especially when it is followed with something as ridiculous as the ‘unconfirmed identity’ of Alessandra’s painter lover… ugh. I had hoped what I had already discerned, would be proven wrong, and I was not. As I have expressed in other reviews, I am extremely excited to see the historical figured I am most passionate about come alive in books, but when they are used as pawns for less than perfect plot ‘twists’ that come at you with the subtlety of a truck, I become offended. Leave my historical figures alone, if they are not to be dealt with in educated respect.
The book then ends rather swiftly, giving closure to the mystery presented in the prologue in a way that seems to dismiss, or diminish it. It felt rather rushed, and I wonder after 300+ pages, this was not treated with the descriptive tenderness the author obviously maintained in the opening and development of the book.