Thus begins In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant's epic novel of life in Renaissance Italy. Escaping the sack of Rome in 1527, with their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed, the courtesan Fiammetta and her dwarf companion, Bucino, head for Venice, the shimmering city born out of water to become a miracle of east-west trade: rich and rancid, pious and profitable, beautiful and squalid.
With a mix of courage and cunning they infiltrate Venetian society. Together they make the perfect partnership: the sharp-tongued, sharp-witted dwarf, and his vibrant mistress, trained from birth to charm, entertain, and satisfy men who have the money to support her.
Yet as their fortunes rise, this perfect partnership comes under threat, from the searing passion of a lover who wants more than his allotted nights to the attentions of an admiring Turk in search of human novelties for his sultan's court. But Fiammetta and Bucino's greatest challenge comes from a young crippled woman, a blind healer who insinuates herself into their lives and hearts with devastating consequences for them all.
A story of desire and deception, sin and religion, loyalty and friendship, In the Company of the Courtesan paints a portrait of one of the world's greatest cities at its most potent moment in history: It is a picture that remains vivid long after the last word.
©2006 Sarah Dunant; (P)2006 Books on Tape
"Lush and intelligent....Dunant is the kind of writer a reader will follow anywhere, trusting completely in her ability both to bring a time and place to life and to tell an enthralling story." (Booklist)
"Through Bucino's sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued narration, Dunant crafts a vivid vision of Venetian life....Dunant's characters...are irresistible throughout their shifting fortunes." (Publishers Weekly)
I highly enjoyed this book. I actually liked this one more than the first one by this author because I felt the characters were a bit more developed than in her other book.
This story begins with the 1527 sack of Rome. The courtesan, Fiammetta Bianchini, is gathering together her forces to combat the soldiers that will flood into the streets at any moment. But instead of guns and ammo she will be using charm, grace and her servants to help her. She succeeds with the Spanish, but fails with the Germans. The hated Lutheran women cut her hair and disfigure her. She, along with her dwarf Bucino, are forced to flee and return to beautiful Venice.
Only Venice isn't so beautiful. In fact the underbelly of Venice is rancid. But because she has little left Fiammetta is forced to live in squalor and rely on others to help her gain what she has lost. Through the months she gains back her beauty and finds that she is robbed by a servant and forced to look elsewhere for help.
In walks her adversary Aretino; a plan is hatched to help the both of them. It's successful and they both rise to a life to which they both don't want to loose. In fact Fiammetta becomes the Muse of Titian for a painting. But as is everything the high life can easily be lost. Fiammetta begins to fall in love, and in her profession that is extremely dangerous. Bucino is angry that it will ruin her, and in doing so ruin everyone around her.
There is also the mysterious person of La Draga, a blind healer who is feared, as well as respected. But is she everything she makes herself out to be? That's the mystery of the book and the conclusion is one that is greatly unexpected and makes for a very good twist for the book.
This book is pretty straight forward in nearly everything. Because it's told from Bucino's point of view, and he is a dwarf, he has no choice but to tell it like it is because his lot in life has forced others to do the same for him.
a Little Trashy, great history, good with Sylvia. I am a historical fiction book snob. Best ever, First Man in Rome, Pillars, Elizabeth Chadwick, Cornwell, and Courtnoy
I thought the story wasn't very exciting. Maybe the reader had something to do with it. He spoke really slow and a bit monotone. I had to speed it up on my ipod. It did pick up the last couple of hours and had a decent ending.
I listened to about 3/4's of this book before finally giving up - the plot is non-existent and the characters are wooden at best. I listen to a lot of historical fiction and this is the bottom of the barrel.
Have to agree with Floridactyl - the narrator was a very poor match for this story. I also found it very difficult at times to tell if the male dwarf or the female courtesan was speaking - he barely differentiated between the voices of the two. The novel was good, though.
Richly detailed, this novel plunged me into the lives of a dwarf and his mistress, a Vienesse courtesan, to whom he is utterly devoted. Told from his point of view, the book is fresh, and less about the exploits and secret life of a courtesan than about loyalty and a man's struggle with his own self loathing. The reader was dramatic- his words filled with emotion- and, although some listeners may find his style distracting, I thought it made the story come alive.
I think this is an entertaining book for those who like historical fiction. Friends who read it themselves liked it. Personally I wouldn't know, because I quit listening after 1/2 hour as I could no longer stand the soporific reading. I hated the way his voice crooned and drawled out syllables, particularly at the ends of sentences. Would have been OK for a tender bedroom scene but not for whole book. He also didn't differentiate at all among the characters, or between narration and dialogue. I will definitely avoid anything using this reader in the future.
I don't know why other people gave such good reviews. Although she can write well at times, it is so uneven, and the language doesn't seem authentic to the time. for scenes of high anger or other emotion, she gives us dialog like, "I am bald, bald godammit!" I'm sure many an Italian renaissance lady fell back on modern day English curse words in times of great stress. She could at least have researched some of the colorful phrases Europeans use when angry. Just lazy writing, Many more godammits occur, while the dwarf recriminates himself at great length. Very great length. And of course, there are mistakes in grammar. In the past, educated people prided themselves on their correct speech, even if they don't do so now. And too much creative writing also can be tedious, and she can get carried away with her own ability to describe things. Very little happens in a long time of listening.
On the other hand, she writes well at times. For example, the lady tells the dwarf that he has "ears of cloth" in reference to his ability to judge music. It is creative and sounds suitably like old language that may have been used. She can describe the beauty of nature, cities and people very well, too.
The narrator does not help with this audiobook. He intones every sentence in the same way, almost breathily, as though every single phrase were laden with great portent. He sounds wistful, maybe even depressed. Unless anger is called for, in which case he suddenly starts to bellow, which comes as a shock.
Well, you can't win em all. It isn't so bad that, having paid for it, I won't finish it. I just wish there were more to look forward to when it's time to listen.
I love historical fiction. I have to admit, I was not too thilled about buying this one at first, but went ahead because of the reviews.
I am glad I did! It was an enjoyable story. It keep my attention. And I looked forward to my times with my Ipod so I could get back to it.
Like Dunant's other books, In the Company of the Courtesan is a rich historical fiction. Her description of the time and place make you feel as if you're in 16th century Italy. The narrator tends to repeat the same tone and syllable pattern. If you can get past him, it's definitely worth listening to.
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