July 31

In The Name of The Family by Sarah Dunant

First up Readheads, an apology because I have been AWOL of late.  So many good reasons why, but not because Miramax called to invite me to join their reading panel tasked with searching out their next big blockbuster…..Not yet anyway!

On a positive note though, I have been reading like a demon  so prepare yourselves for lots of upcoming posts.  But, right now,  let’s settle in for Sarah Dunant’s latest ‘In The Name of The Family.’

I actually had an epiphany reading this one.  I was driving along with my husband, running errands as life demands, and told him how eager I was to get back to my book at home.  ‘It mustn’t be very good,’ I added.  ‘Perhaps it’s a bit of a pot boiler….’

And then it hit me. When did I start equating great books, ones you didn’t want to put down, with them being literarily inferior?  Did I have to struggle through and feel emotionally and intellectually tortured to rate it as a  great book?  What the hell? Obviously,  I had gotten into quite the snotty rut.

Sarah Dunant is one of my favourite authors – I adored the first book I ever read of hers ‘The Birth of Venus’ and I equally adored this one and if you love intrigue and history, particularly the Renaissance era,  I think you will too.

The book begins in 1502 with Rodrigo Borgia sitting upon the papal throne as Alexandra VI.  Well-known for his relentless womanising and far-reaching, political corruption, the new Pope is a study in ruthlessness — and so are his children, particularly his power hungry (and blood thirsty) son Cesare.  His daughter Lucrezia, who we meet on the eve of her third marriage at 22 years of age certainly makes her influence felt and perhaps becomes, and rightly so, the most powerful of them all.   History certainly remembers her so.

The Borgia’s are the original dynasty and reading their quest for power and the lengths they go to for glory and to win makes for a good story — but not necessarily one that sits well on the stomach at times.  And strangely — as dreadful as they could be, I couldn’t help but feel for them a little (and feel great admiration for Lucrezia), even as they unleashed the most treacherous havoc right up until their deaths.  So is the skill of Dunant.

But what makes this a stellar read is the involvement of Machiavelli, the diplomat, who uses his experience with the Borgia’s to frame his great work of modern politics, ‘The Prince’.   Machiavelli forms an unusual alliance with Cesare Borgia and watching the Pope’s son in action offers him a first row seat into the dark arts of power and politics.

Dunant offers the perspectives of the Borgia’s and Machiavelli in the book —  each voice unique, boastful but always slightly nervous.  Death, brutality and disloyalty are constant companions to them all and it must have been exhausting, quite frankly.

So if you are a lover of history, a finely spun tale and great characters — made better because these ones are based on fact — pop this on your reading list. You won’t be sorry, but you might, like me, not get much done outside reading this great page-turner.

But that is just my 2cents worth.