9.01.2010

Currently Reading: The Smile

"No, no," says Leonardo. "Please stay seated, Madonna Elisabetta. Put your hands like they were a moment ago." He takes my hands and arranges them. "The right hand facing down, the left facing upand your eyes looking toward that left hand."
 

Did this artist's discerning eye catch the emotion in my gesture toward Giuliano? I shake my head and pull my hands away, hoping my cheeks are not as red as they are hot.
 

"Don't be shy with me. I need you as a model. Please. Just for a moment." Leonardo takes my hands again and gently arranges them as before. "That's perfect."

Author: Donna Jo Napoli

Synopsis: The teenage Elisabetta wants passionate love in marriage, and she seems to have a chance at it with Giuliano de Medici, who calls her Monna Lisa. Giuliano has an artist-friend, Leonardo da Vinci, and the rest is imagined upon history.

Notes: As a story based around art, the book intrigued me. It occurs in Florence during the downfall of the Medici family, the rise of the monk Savonarola, and the career of da Vinci. Da Vinci enters the story only a few times, but Elisabetta's life and feelings are directly affected by Savonarola's preaching and the destruction of the works of art he perceived as influencing the corruption in the Church.

Which leads to certain aspects of the book that made me uncomfortable. Savonarola is portrayed as evil unmitigated. Elisabetta's response to his execution as a heretic is basically "Evil pope, evil monk... oh well." To be fair, Napoli's narrating protagonist is in love with a Medici—not likely to provide a favorable image of the monk. Also, one novel and a quick read of Savonarola's Wikipedia entry aren't enough to tell me where his heart was; I'm certainly no fan of book burning or other art destruction, so I can only go so far in judgment here.

Similarly, though, Elisabetta is ambivalent at best toward the Church and completely shameless at the idea of sexual trysting as long as passion is involved. Which leaves me wondering: If I keep picking books at random off the young adult shelves, am I constantly going to run into the sex good religion evil concept? I feel like I've been writing about this a lot lately. It gets old really, really fast.

And yet, there is some ambiguity in the final direction of the story. Elisabetta's character development toward the end was beautiful and even a little surprising. She and I had rather different perceptions on the youngest Medici, which I thought increased that ambiguity (I won't go into that because it would mean spoilers.) And while I didn't agree with some of the foregone conclusions, the history was fascinating.

Recommendation: Read it critically, but enjoy the Renaissance history and the flow of a well-told tale.

2 comments:

  1. Jenna wrote: "Which leaves me wondering: If I keep picking books at random off the young adult shelves, am I constantly going to run into the sex good religion evil concept? I feel like I've been writing about this a lot lately. It gets old really, really fast."

    Short answer: Yes.

    Long answer: Unfortunately, yes. It's the poisonous fruit of post-modernism. It's hard to avoid the spirit of the age in books nowadays.

    For me, most of it, though, is like buzzing in the ears. I just gloss over it unless it's really rabid & in your face.

    Which is why we need really good writers who can transcend much of the schlock we're getting in YA nowadays. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, you're right, George. It's considered fundamentally true nowadays, so of course I'll run into it. Good heavens, am I ever tired of it, though.

    As for your last paragraph: I'll do my best. :)

    ReplyDelete

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