Sarah Dunant, In the Company of the Courtesan.
I read a fair amount of rather middling historical fiction in 2007, trying to figure out what worked for me, why, and why not, but two wonderful novels I read at the end of the year made up for all the previous suffering I did for my Art. The second, I’ll write about in my next post (which will be soon, I promise) but the first is Sarah Dunant’s tale of the dwarf Bucino, and his life as companion to the talented courtesan, Fiammetta, in sixteenth-century Rome and Venice.
Why did this work? First of all, I felt that Dunant has an excellent period sense which is beautifully conveyed through her writing. I found the world she created entirely satisfying and convincing. I know just enough about the period to be tiresomely opinionated, but Dunant won me over from the first page. The mood she created reminded me very much of novels like Helle Hasse’s The Scarlet City or Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion.
The other great strength of this novel is Dunant’s main character, Bucino. He is a sidekick in the drama that is Fiammetta’s life, and he knows and accepts he’s a sidekick, but Dunant pulls him out of his ancillary role into the spotlight. The story is about his development as a human being, how he comes to term with the fact he is a dwarf, how he learns to love and to live for himself and not always through others, the sacrifices he makes, and the price he pays. The dramatic and exciting events that happen over the course of the novel serve as catalysts for the development of this memorable and appealing character.