It's a nice feeling when you find a book so engrossing that it makes you stay up late, read it over breakfast, and put it down with a satisfied sigh when you're done. This week's bedtime-breakfast book was Sarah Dunant's "In the Company of the Courtesan," which for some mysterious reason I had not read earlier. Fantastico! Several things about the book stood out to me: 1) the authenticity/sincerity of the narrator's voice. What a challenge, to assume the persona of a 16th-century male dwarf who business-partners with a courtesan, and Dunant pulls it off. All it takes is one badly chosen word to make an author's first-person voice falter, but Dunant doesn't falter once. Her Bucino lives, breathes, and speaks with utter believability. 2) the power of place. Dunant evokes Venice beautifully while avoiding clichés. The reader feels and smells the city. 3) Dunant's gift of description. Again, evocative, and lyrical too. There's a real rhythm to her words.
I enjoyed "The Birth of Venus" when I read it a while back, but I think I prefer "Courtesan." Venice is certainly getting its share of attention in the historical-fiction world these days: in the fall I read Barbara Quick's "Vivaldi's Virgins," which I greatly enjoyed, and on my list (when will I have time to read all the books on my long list??) is Christi Phillips' "The Rossetti Letter." Apparently Rosalind Laker's "The Venetian Mask," which I have a vague memory of reading a long time ago, is coming back into print soon. Viva la Venezia!