Blurb from Goodreads
A secret diary. A forbidden love. A centuries old mystery to solve.
When a rare sixteenth-century manuscript lands on her desk courtesy of William, a struggling painter, shy book restorer Rose makes a startling discovery: it is a palimpsest. Beneath the text is a different document, one that’s been written over. What they discover is the secret diary of William’s ancestor, Giovanni Lomazzo, a Venetian painter who has just been commissioned by Venice’s most powerful admiral to paint a portrait of his favourite courtesan… it is a diary of forbidden love, dangerous political plots, and secrets that could destroy everyone involved.
Together, Rose and William work to solve the mystery of what happened to the secret lovers. As feelings develop between Rose and William, their own experience begins to mirror the affair that they’re uncovering, and each set of lovers is forced to confront the reality of their romance.
A richly detailed and sweeping page-turner, Margaux’s sumptuous portrait of late Renaissance Italy will have you falling headlong into history, slipping in and out of the shadows along the canals of Venice.
This was a very entertaining read that wove together two timelines in a most compelling fashion.
In present day USA an artist named William brings an old book that apears to be a treatise on art written by his ancestor Giovanni Lomazzo to a restorer named Rose who works out of her bookshop near a university campus.
As Rose begins working on the book, she discovers that the manuscript is in fact a palimpsest and contains diary entries and repeated sketches of a young unidentified woman. Rose finds herself intoxicated by the story of Giovanni and his love for this mysterious woman he has sketched in the book, and this becomes mirrored in Rose’s own life as she becomes more and more drawn to William and the two develop a deep connection to each other despite William’s marital status.
In 1570’s Venice we follow the story of Giovanni and his forbidden love affair with a courtesan named Chiara that is set against the backdrop of the Ottoman-Venetian War.
I rather enjoyed this romantic novel with a distinct historical fiction aspect. I found myself very invested in both timelines and for much of the book I was unsure as to how events would pan out and was therefore incredibly eager to get to the end so I would know everything! I especially was completely blindsided by a late plot development in the 1570s timeline that sent me reeling!
The book essentially gives us two forbidden love stories that are forbidden for different reasons and it’s the contrast between both that makes for thought provoking reading.
I felt that the current timeline following Rose and her interactions with William was perfectly played. In what could be described as somewhat of a risky move for such a romance heavy novel, this timeline toyed with the idea of infidelity and what it truly means to love someone.
I was very much touched by Rose’s loneliness and truly felt her longing for something more in life. I also really loved the inclusion of Rose’s family storyline especially her interactions with her sister; it helped to flesh out Rose as a character and added to my ability to empathise with her plight.
I was less of a fan of William because hello!!! You’re married you douchebag!!! BUT this made him all the more compelling to read about as I liked seeing his flaws and struggles even though I morally disapproved of his actions.
In the 1570s timeline I felt the backstory was a little more difficult to follow. I had limited knowledge of the Ottoman-Venetian War prior to reading this book and at times I really wish I had known more as I’m sure I would have felt a little less lost. I especially found it difficult to understand the roles of the key players within the war scenario and felt that the book needed to be a little clearer as to what the function / role / motivation / personality of each of the supporting characters was. One such character was Corvino. So many tines I was unsure what was allegory and what was truly occurring when he made his on page appearances.
However, I really did enjoy the love story between Chiara and Gio. I’m not sure how historically accurate it would have been to have had a courtesan be as educated as Chiara was but it worked in this book. I really liked how she seemed to be so sure of herself, was really witty and smart, and certainly wasn’t a shrinking violet. In many ways Chiara was the type of woman that present timeline Rose was trying to become.
And Gio… loved him! I liked how he had this almost innocent quality to him. He gave his heart so openly and freely to Chiara and it just gave me all the warm feels.
Overall this was a good book that I would happily recommend to people more interested in love stories rather than historical fiction and adventure.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
Publishing 11th June 2020, Trapeze