Secrecy by Rupert Thomson

“He came on a November day, a cold wind blowing, the fields soaked with rain.”

With this first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page, then the second page , I knew I was starting a book I would enjoy

Apart from Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel I haven’t found much to interest me in period stories set in Italy, such as Medici stories.  But this rather tragic tale is unforgettable.

I hadn’t heard of it until one night recently it was discussed on the Book Show on Australian ABC TV and now having read the book I went back and watched their comments again more carefully.  To them it seemed the love story was secondary to the Gothic, the darkness, the evil, the religion and politics.  But I’m a people person and the meeting and the gradual involvement of the sculptor and the beautiful young girl was what it was all about. .  It is set in the less affluent parts of Florence  and the countryside with the brief ventures of the sculptor into princely circles.

Because it was set in late C17th Italy how a relationship developed depended on the laws and the morals of the time., and this historical background floats along underneath the characters of the story.  There are also some fine descriptions of how sculpture in wax was done in those times and some unforgettable minor characters along the way.

Then there are the secrets.  We all have our little secrets which we don’t reveal to casual acquaintances. And it is these secrets held by different characters  in the book which lead the story to its conclusion.

It wasn’t until I had finished the book that I found out that Zumbo was a real person who spent his life fleeing foom his home in Sicily.  He really did make the wax sculptures depicting the plague. This has made the book even more fascinating in retrospect.

The boy-girl story and the secrets were but the dominant factors of the book to me.  I enjoyed the background, it was a necessary part of the story, but it wasn’t the story itself.

But, I found a different interpretation of the book in the Australian ABC TV’s Book Club.  For the discussion the three regulars were joined by authors Junot Diaz and Sarah Dunant.  I don’t think I’ve read anything by either of them but after listening to them talk I certainly intend to remedy that.

The background seemed to be everything to them -evil, hell-hole, darkness, gothic, pious, sordid were some of the words they used.  True, but what did they expect in C17th Florence and was it very different to what is happening in different parts of our world and which we read in our papers and hear on the TV news each night.

I don’t think the panel made any mention of the title, Secrecy, which is such an  important part of  the story.  As secrets are revealed so are actions determined.  Knowledge determines how we react to a situation.

Soo…we all liked the book, but with different interpretations and  for different reasons. My appreciation of the book was enriched by listening to these two discussions, the first from the ABC Book Club and the second from an interview with the author Rupert Thomson.

Book Clubs, Libraries and Cloud Atlas

This is a dreary photo of the view from a coffee shop across a shopping centre car park to a brown box on the other side of a busy road.  But the uninspiring brown box is actually a branch of our local library system and was a place I visted this week.

I had read where tthe librarians  were having a “book chat” for an hour each month.  That sounded very appealing.  It’s some time since I’ve belonged to a book club and this way I didn’t have to take my turn as hostess, no cleaning of the house, no massive supper spread to prepare.

So I went along armed with my copy of my latest love, Cloud Atlas, prepared to gush about its many allures but also looking forward to finding out which books others were enjoying.

I was the only person who arrived.  Can you believe that.  The first month one arrived, the second no-one came and this month there was just me.  But it was a stand-out hour for me this week. Talking non-stop books with the librarian ( a complete stranger) and learning each other likes and dislikes.  Hopefully I’ve persuaded her that Henning Mankell is a crime author well worth reading and helped her understand Cloud Atlas so that she will now finish it.  And she has persuaded me to give Wolf Hall another try.  By the way, I call Cloud Atlas a circular novel because once I got to the end I had to go straight back to the beginning and start it again. I tend not to look up reviews etc while I’m in the middle of a book but once I was finished  I found the forums and blogs about this book most helpful. I was so gratified when they picked up on points which I had noticed and so pleased to be told about the references which I had missed.

I hope the librarian enjoyed the hour as much as I did.  For me it was then straight over to the coffee shop to sit and look back at that building with its bleak exterior hiding its magical books.