2013 Historical Fiction Uncategorized

Secrecy by Rupert Thomson


Five words from the blurb: Italy, sculptor, hidden, dangers, revelations

Last year I read The Book of Revelation by Rupert Thomson and was impressed by its original and thought provoking plot. So when an unsolicited review copy of Thomson’s latest book popped through my letter box I was keen to see what he’d written. Secrecy is very different in style to The Book of Revelation, but his ability to write such accomplished books in different genres is a testament to his skill as an author.

Secrecy is a vivid piece of historical fiction set in 17th Century Italy. The central character, Zummo, is an artist who creates macabre models from wax. Zummo has many secrets and is forced to flee from his home town to Palermo, then Naples. Luckily he finds favour with Tuscany’s Medici ruler, Cosimo III, who commissions him to make a large wax sculpture, the nature of which is to be kept secret from everyone around them.

The writing was atmospheric and reminded me of Pure by Andrew Miller in the way it also contained depth and insight:

Secrecy has many faces. If it was imposed on you, against your will, it could be a scourge – the bane of your existence. On the other hand, you might well seek it out. Nurture it. Rely on it. You might find life impossible without it. But there was a third kind of secrecy, which you carried unknowingly, like a disease, or the hour of your death. Things that could be kept from you, maybe for ever.

The plot contained many twists and turns, but none were jaw-dropping – it was simply good old-fashioned story telling. Unfortunately I never connected emotionally with Zummo, but I remained interested in his story throughout. He was a fantastic character and I loved the fact that he was so flawed; encouraging the reader to be disgusted by him one moment and then feel sympathy for him the next.

This period of history was unfamiliar to me so I enjoyed learning at little about life in the Medici court. This book was clearly very well researched, but I liked the way that the historical facts were present, but never over-burdening.

Overall this was an enjoyable read and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a good piece of literary historical fiction.


2009 2010 Chunkster Historical Fiction

Sacred Hearts – Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts is the third selection for the new TV Book Club, so when I spotted a copy hiding on the library shelves I decided to grab the opportunity to try it.

The book is set in an Italian convent during the 16th Century. It tells the story of a young woman brought to the convent against her will, as her family couldn’t afford the dowry to see more than one of their daughters married.

I was totally unaware of this practice – I found the detail of convent life fascinating and struggled to imagine a society in which so many women were forced to leave their loved ones to spend a life locked away from the world.

It is always hard, understanding what is being gained in the moment at which something is also being taken away. For such a young woman to appreciate, for example, the different meanings of incarceration and freedom. How while outside these walls ‘free’ women will live their whole lives dictated by the decisions of others, yet inside, to a remarkable extent, they govern themselves.

The book was rich in period detail and contained many of those little facts that you just can’t help sharing with anyone who happens to be close by. The characters were well drawn and I especially loved the way in which all the nuns had unique personalities, following the rules to a varying extents.

My only criticism is that the pace of the book was quite slow, which meant that the 460 pages dragged in several places. I’d recommend this book only to fans of historical fiction, as I don’t think the plot is exciting enough to entertain anyone who isn’t interested in learning about life in the 16th Century.


This is the first Sarah Dunant book that I have read, but I’m interested in reading more.

Have you read any of her books?

Which would you recommend I try next?

1940s Books in Translation Historical Fiction Nobel Prize

The Dwarf – Pär Lagerkvist

 Pär Lagerkvist won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1951

Translated from the Swedish by Alexandra Dick

Regular readers of my blog may remember the wonderful post, Recommendations from a non-blogger, written by Heidi. In the post Heidi recommended  The Dwarf  by Pär Lagerkvist, which I have never seen mentioned in the blogging world, so was keen to give it a try.

The Dwarf  is set in an Italian City during the Renaissance. The central character is just 26 inches high and is a servant to the Prince. The story follows them as they are drawn in to war and have to deal with death, disease and betrayal.

The Dwarf is probably the most miserable, bitter and twisted character I have ever read about. He seems to be dissatisfied with every aspect of his life – his anger bubbling through onto every page.

It is my fate that I hate my own people. My race is detestable to me. But I hate myself too. I eat my own splenetic flesh. I drink my own poisoned blood.

This made it very different from any other book I’ve read. His bleak outlook on the world meant that he was a very hard character to like and I had little sympathy for him, but despite this I was fascinated by his story. I loved the historical detail about life in an Italian court and found the attitudes of the people really interesting.

This is a quick, easy book to read, but it is packed with messages about the nature of society and the evil that is lurking within us all.



Have you read any books written by Pär Lagerkvist?