In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
Book #31 for 2009
I love reading historical fiction, especially those that deal with Renaissance painters and their art.
Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus was one of the first novels I read in this genre, and was one of the reasons I got hooked — I loved the tapestry of themes Dunant weaves: romance, art, religion, and politics, set in the vibrant backdrop of the Renaissance.
I’ve had In the Company of the Courtesan for over a year now, and I figured it was time to finally read it.
This time, Dunant chooses Venice as the setting for her story and I have no complaints — I love stories set in Venice, with its colorful people, flurry of activity, and air of romance.
In the Company of the Courtesan revolves around an unlikely duo — the beautiful courtesan named Fiammetta Bianchini and her right-hand man, a dwarf named Bucino Teodoldi.
The story unfolds as the pair flees from the sack of Rome in Renaissance Italy, escaping into Venice to rebuild their life from scatch.
The dwarf and his mistress struggle to get back on their feet, and eventually manage to enter Venetian society and reestablish Fiammetta as an in-demand courtesan, but troubles continue to brew, as Venice’s cast of characters pose threats to their partnership, from an overzealous lover who opens Fiammetta’s eyes to real romance and passion; an enterprising Turk who is eager to add Bucino to his Sultan’s menagerie; and the blind and crippled healer La Draga, who breaks the peace pf the household and leaves them to face seriouse consequences.
Sarah Dunant is a master at recreating history and fleshing out nameless faces of the past.
In the Company of the Courtesan was a bit more challenging to read than The Birth of Venus, probably because it is written from the point of view of Bucino, who is not as companionable as Alessandra at first, but grows on you as the story progeresses.
Bucino makes an interesting, if outlandish persona, as he is an outcast that has gained the grudging respect of society because of his ties to the great Fiammetta.
The novel also features another artist — Titian, this time — for whom Fiammetta serves as a muse.
In true Dunant fashion, In the Company of the Courtesan is another page-turner, offering a glimpse into the role of courtesans in Renaissance society, seamlessly incorporating themes of loyalty, friendship, and religion in a portrait of 16th century Venice.
Sarah Dunant’s other novels seem to be all contemporary after this, I do hope they are as well-written as her historical novels.
My copy: hardcover with dustjacket (upgraded from trade paperback)
My rating: 4/5 stars