Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Botticelli Secret

Author: Marina Fiorato
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Type: Paperback
Pages: 540
First Line: "Florence looks like gold and smells like sulphur."

Synopsis: Luciana Vetra, a part-time model and full-time whore, lives in fifteenth century Florence, Italy. When she is asked by one of her rich and regular customers to pose as Flora in Sandro Botticelli's painting called 'La Primavera' Luciana obliges. But after she is dismissed abruptly and without payment she is irate. When she finds a cartone, a smaller unfinished version of the painting, stashed away in the room she takes it as her due payment.

She soon learns her mistake when people around her start being murdered in order to get the painting back. With no family or friends to turn to for help Luciana seeks help from Guido de la Torre, a novice at the Santa Croce monastery. Together they flee Florence and hope to uncover the secret the cartone holds before their pursuers catch up to them.

My Thoughts: Picking up this book I figured I'd love it. It had a lot of things going for it. The synopsis on the back over of this book was intriguing, it's a historical fiction read (one of my favourite genres) and the story is set in beautiful Italy(where I spent my 10th wedding anniversary).  One would think that I'd adore this book. Sadly, that wasn't the case.  Not even close. 

I read just over half of the book in over a week - an unbelievably slow pace for this bookworm!  I just couldn't get into it. It started off strong and had a decidedly Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code) feel to it -- historical intrigue, decoding hidden messages in art etc.  Unfortunately it didn't have the fast-paced plot like Brown's work.

At first there's a lot of momentum and suspense in the book but it very quickly petered off.  I think this happened for a few reasons.  First, the main characters were very one-dimensional and clichéd (crass whore and innocent monk-in-training trying to redeem said whore).  They really didn't grab me enough so that I was rooting for them to figure out the clues.

Secondly, the plot quickly became both confusing and unbelievable.  The clues that Luciana and Guido were uncovering were either unbelievably vague and silly or very convoluted.  An odd combo.  The first set of clues seemed to be solved with no factual basis while other clues were so intricate that they were over my head.  It's at the point when they decide that counting all of the flowers in the painting will help to decipher the code that I finally gave up on the book.  Just too unbelievable and vague.  So, if I look at Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' and count the waves in the water and subtract the leaves from the trees it will tell me the number of steps I need to walk from the Pantheon to get buried treasure in Rome?!?  Ya, totally not gonna happen.  Ridiculous.

I think it would have helped me understand some of their confusing deciphering if the author would have had a picture of the actual Primavera in the book so I could look at the picture as the characters were figuring out the clues.  The descriptions of the picture were far too confusing and bogged down the momentum of the story.

Sadly, I also didn't love the main character.  I know!  I'm just a total party pooper with this book!  I feel like the Book Grinch!  Personally, I don't have to like a character (I love flawed main characters) but they do have to be believable and not clichéd.  We know from the beginning that Luciana is a prostitute but I found it extremely odd that Fiorato portrays Luciana as more of a happy, go-lucky, 'love my job!' kind of whore.  Let's just say that if Luciana had a car she'd have a 'I heart Johns' bumper sticker.  Enough said.  I'm fairly sure that being a whore back in 15th century Italy (or any era for that matter) isn't one of those awesome jobs that young girls dream to one day aspire to.  To say that Luciana was 'pr--k hungry'  and that she was desperate to have sex with pretty much any good looking guy at any time was offensive and portrays her as more of a nymphomaniac than a prostitute struggling to make a living.  I just couldn't get behind the 'happy whore' idea.

One of the things that shocked me was the blatant and overuse of swearing by Luciana in the book.  I don't consider myself a prude but I was taken aback at the gratuitous use of profanity that was regularly coming out of Luciana's mouth.  She may even make Howard Stern blush.   I wasn't even sure that 15th century whores used the F-word.  I don't mind nor am I offended if swearing is used in books in a believable manner.  It's when it's just thrown in there for shock value {repeatedly} that I don't like.

Luciana also had the very annoying and odd habit of describing everything in threes.  Why?  I have no idea.  All I know is that after the first four times it got old.  Fast.  I'm assuming that the author was going for a quirky habit for the happy whore but it just didn't work for this reader.

It wasn't only the potty mouth that had me miffed.  It was also the use of  modern language thrown into a historical read bothers me to no end!!  I'm fairly sure that 15th century people didn't say 'get a move on'!  A little research by the author is all that is needed to fix this!

I'm so sad that this very intriguing idea for a plot was so poorly executed!  One of the things I did love about this book was that the author did accurately capture the beauty of Florence and Rome.  Florence is a stunningly beautiful area!!  My favourite city in Italy!  Just reading the descriptions brought me back to all of those cities that we visited!  So, if I can't love the plot and characters of this book at least I get to remember my fantastic trip in Italy.

My Rating: 0/5  (ie.  I didn't finish it)


Beth said...

Try "The Glassblower of Murano" by the same author. If I recall correctly, it was much better than this title.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

I've heard that "The Glassblower of Murano" was much better. :)

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