It has been a few years since I read Marina Fiorato’s intriguing novel The Glassblower of Murano, but upon seeing a book about my favourite artist and indeed my favourite painting, I could not resist. Promising to be a story of intrigue, conspiracy, and cultural jewels, The Botticelli Secret should appeal to the spy and romantic alike.
The story unravels in 1480s Italy, moving between Florence, Pisa, Venice, and other key cities that are wrapped up in the strange and secret plot. The beautiful but crude prostitute Luciana finds herself tangled in a mess of lies, taking with her the humble monk Brother Guido. Together they travel across Italy, following clues in a stolen ‘cartone’ of Botticelli’s La Primavera, racing against armies, powerful men, and the arrival of Spring herself to try to unravel the chaos that is about to pour over the country.
However, I found myself surprisingly disappointed by Fiorato’s somewhat amateur writing style – the story itself is incredibly interesting, but proves to only be a good tale, and not what I would consider of any literary merit. Narrated by Luciana, her voice switches constantly from faux-15th Century dialect to brash and excessive swearing that doesn’t sit well on the page nor in the character; she is meant to be a rough girl, but the paradox of writing styles makes it a jolting read. Similarly, there are points within the plot where the reader is expected to understand a little more than the characters, as they are presented with clues that we, with historical hindsight, are able to read instantly – this technique is widely used and provides some sense of satisfaction to the reader as they feel a part of the investigation. In this instance though, I found myself almost rolling my eyes as the clues were so obvious it seemed more suited as a children’s book than one for adults – the readers were not asked to make their own estimations, but were rather shown the answers full in the face, and then given three chapters of frustrating waiting before the characters catch up.
I must credit Fiorato’s incredibly detailed research into one of the many theories surrounding La Primavera, and her extensive knowledge of Italy took me right into the piazzas and through the wonderfully foreboding world of the Medicis. Her concepts, ideas, and indeed character developments show signs of a good storyteller, which I had seen in The Glassblower – I am not sure whether she was trying to alter her writing style for this book, but unfortunately it did not relate well on the page.
By all means, pick up this book and explore the magic of that era, move through the painting and palaces in your mind’s eye, and become friends with the monks and scholars. Just take a deep breath beforehand, I found it helped to quell the internal literary critic.