Wednesday 9 December 2015

Review Time! (Yay!) - Carnevale by Michelle Lovric

Carnevale book coverTitle: Carnevale.

Author: Michelle Lovric (M. R. Lovric.)

Genre: Historical fiction, Romance.
USA Link.

A few starting notes:

I'd previously read The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric (US link) - which I loved. So when I saw this, with its bold and eye-catching cover, in my library, I picked it up (that really does make me sound so easily distracted... which I can't really deny...)


Fictional painter, Cecilia Cornaro, tells the tale of her life and loves in the Venetian Republic as it slowly disintegrates. What unfolds is a description of her two greatest love affairs - with Casanova, and Lord Byron.

Best bits:

Lovric has clearly researched her primary male leads - Casanova and Byron - very well.
Separating man from myth (was Casanova black? what was Byron really like as a person?) is almost impossible with these figures, but Lovric simply uses this mythologising as a theme, and for detail, uses the interpretations of history which most suit the plot and characterisation of the novel.
This is a novel of myths and masks, and whether we really know the people behind them; Lovric weaves themes around themselves with skill and style, making for a book filled with intensity, emotion, and dubious morality.
Lovric's writing is lush and detailed - every inch of prose has its own rhythm and flow. Her style and talent evoke vividly the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries - and the exoticism and mystique of Venice.
Venice is almost another character here - I hear that a lot about places in books, but it seems true in this case - as if Venice (or 'La Serenissima,') is an active participant in the events. Plus, the (often risqué) Venetian proverbs are great.

Not so great bits:

As can be imagined in a book which features two of history's greatest (and most notorious) lovers as main characters, there is a lot of sex. Rarely is this gratuitous or graphic, but it's there. There's also a bunch of swearing.
More uncomfortable though is the amount of abuse in this book. This book has descriptions of, or references to, pretty much any type of abuse you can think of: emotional, physical, sexual, animal, child...
Often the reader is made unwillingly complicit: Cecilia is a very young teenager throughout her affair with Casanova, and, if anything, the sexual relationship between teenager and significantly older man is glamorised and romanticised.

Looked at objectively (and in a modern light,) it's creepy, but the book somehow manages to turn it into this beautiful love, which Cecilia holds onto as the ideal relationship - not sure I'm all that comfortable with this.
There are other issues here which might be distressing to some readers - homophobia, incest, the loss of children, and suicide, for example, all feature.
It should also be mentioned, briefly, that real historical figures commit fictional offenses - this is fine in terms of plot and story, but the reader should remember that the real Byron and Casanova did not act like this towards Cecilia, because there was no real Cecilia. (It's that tricksy man and myth thing again!)
This is also a very long book (over 600 pages,) which may put off some readers.


While there are certainly moral issues with this book, it's still magnificently written, and an exceptionally good read.

If you're looking for a tale of love, loss, and the intoxicating Venice, you will find few other books which succeed in taking you away to this time and this place so vividly.

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