The Birth of Venus is a historical novel, similar to Girl with a Pearl Earring in its themes of sensual awakening and art, although it goes into more detail, especially on history and politics (from the death of Lorenzo de Medici to the rise and fall of Savonarola), with a bit of Dante thrown in.
Set in 15th century Florence, it is the story of Alessandra Cecchi, precocious and artistic daughter of a well-to-do cloth merchant. The story unfolds with Alessandra’s coming of age at 14, forcing her to sacrifice her dreams to fulfill the expectations of womanhood amidst the turmoil around her, with Savonarola threatening to snuff out the influence of the Medicis, and the pending French invasion. The Florence she has known and loved is changing, and with this, Alessandra carves out a life she can call her own, and finally explore the passions she’s kept at bay.
Like Griet in Girl with a Pearl Earring, Alessandra is intoxicated with art, and falls in love with a painter. I love how these two books explore art and love in a similar fashion. Maybe it’s the artist in me, but it’s a heady combination. The richness of detail paints a very vivid picture — you can almost hear the fine scratching of Alessandra’s chalk on the wooden board, or smell the paint as it’s being mixed to the right shade…
The second half’s full of surprises, especially Part IV, where things you didn’t expect to have any significance fall into place, and tie the whole story into a very strong piece: a charming novel that’s hard to resist.
My copy: trade paperback upgraded into hardcover with dustjacket, thanks to Triccie and Babing
My rating: 5/5 stars