I bought this book based on the title, as Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus' is an interesting painting with a lot of petites histoires attached to it. Set in Renaissance Florence, I expected Botticelli and his paintings to play a key role. And this, in a way, is what is promised in the blurb on the back cover. While there is indeed a painting in this story, the novel has nothing to do with the painting it steals its name from, and nothing really to do with Botticelli.
I own a Dutch translation of the book made by Tinke Davids.
I must stay it is utterly awful. There are a plethora of annoying mistakes and some sentences do not work very well due to wording. It was like reading a ten year old essay. Poorly constructed sentences, not an agreeable read on a technical level.
Either it is a very bad translation, or the translator didn't have a lot of interesting language to work with for starters. I suspect Dunant's original text in English gives off the same vibe. It was quite frankly a very boring read. I've heard her prose is very flat, and she changes tense within the same paragraph. In other words: She is a terrible writer.
Entire passages didn't seem to get a move on, a lot of things were unnecessarily stretched out. She makes you anticipate something is going to happen and you hang on, and nothing happens. It's like a Wagner opera. Even the so-called 'intelligent' conversations were steeped in banality. Most plot elements where rather uneventful. Even the sibling rivalry between the main character and her brother, which is a critical point in the whole narrative, isn't claws out at all.
This story promised a lot, but what could have been interesting was made boring. She barely scratched the surface of the matter. Because of the setting of the novel, amid all the political and religious turmoil in Florence, she could have tried harder to make the Allesandra character more involved. Her story amounts to being a rather decaf melodramatic version of the real thing. So more umph and less ooh would have been nice.
And worse still, her main character is blatantly anachronistic. Thoroughly modern, she thinks and acts just like a 21st-century woman.
This is the trouble with, I'd say, sixty percent of all historical fiction, the author desperately wants to link her character to the important people or artefacts in Florence of the time however unlikely it may seem. Alas, the Allessandra character simply does not make a very interesting narrator, the narrative doesn't feel very credible (even if we are fully aware it is fiction).
I'd recommend The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone well above this one if you want to read fiction about Florence set in the Savonarola/Medici age. It stands head and shoulders above this one.
The Birth of Venus is an excellent example of poorly written historical fiction. It has the flavor of slightly fluffy escapist reading.
Luckily I only forked out 3,75 Euros for my copy which I bought through a second hand web site from someone living in my own village.