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Friday, June 13, 2008

In The Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

Don't let the title of this book put you off. It's a very enjoyable and well written piece of historical fiction. Sarah Dunant brings Renaissance Italy to life and skillfully integrates real people and events into this fictional story.

The story is about Fiammetta, a high class Italian courtesan in the 1530s, who is forced to flee Rome after the brutal invasion and sacking of the city. She escapes with her faithful servant and companion, the dwarf Bucino, having only a few jewels to her name. It is from Bucino's point of view that the story is told.

Bucino and Fiammetta settle in Venice and work together as a team to establish her as one of Venice's leading courtesans. As she becomes more successful, the dynamics of their relationship change subtly.

I enjoyed this book very much. I was caught up in the characters and the decisions that they made. I found the ending very moving and I was sorry to say goodbye to these characters. I also enjoyed finding out more about Renaissance Italy. The way that Sarah Dunant brings historical figures into the story is very clever and makes it feel very real.

About halfway through I realized the significance of the cover illustration. As Sarah Dunant explains in the author's notes, it is a painting by the artist Titian, most probably of an Italian courtesan of that time. In her book, she has Titian painting the same portrait with Fiammetta as his model.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading historical fiction.

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