The Floating Book: A Novel of Venice

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9780060578572: The Floating Book: A Novel of Venice

Venice, 1468. Wendelin von Speyer has just arrived from Germany with the foundations of a cultural revolution: Gutenberg's movable type. Together with the young editor Bruno Uguccione and the seductive scribe Felice Feliciano, he starts the city's first printing press. While Bruno and Felice become entwined in an obsessive love triangle with a beautiful Dalmatian woman named Sosia, Wendelin tempts the fates by publishing the first edition of the erotic Roman poems of Catullus -- a move that will enrage the church, scandalize the city, and change all of their lives forever.

The Floating Book is a ravishing novel of letters and lust, intrigue and betrayal -- a chillingly beautiful debut that few readers will soon forget.

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About the Author:

Michelle Lovric is the winner of the London Arts Writer's Award, the editor of the New York Times bestseller Love Letters, and the author of the widely acclaimed novel The Floating Book. She divides her time between Venice and London, where she lives in a Venetian-style setting on the Thames near Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

From The Washington Post:

The first thing to say about this historical novel set in 15th-century Venice is that you must keep going. It gets better. Indeed, making your way through the early pages is an experience not dissimilar to making your way for the first time through Venice itself: You see the beauty of the architecture, you feel the imminent detail of the history, you sense a certain amorous languor in the air, and you might even glimpse some fleeting sign of real life down a narrow sottoportego as your guide elaborates about the sights ahead -- but the whole experience is forever being hijacked by ubiquitous image-conscious Venetians (particularly the gondola guides) who love themselves and think they are it. And yet, if you are prepared to stay on a while, to allow your guide's amour propre its proper play, to immerse yourself -- then the rewards can be as opulent and ravishing as you first imagined.

So with The Floating Book. Most of the characters soon slip off their stagy silhouettes. The interlinking stories start to pull at you. The fictional letters of the Roman poet Catullus that herald each section begin to have credibility and pertinence. A host of interesting themes declare themselves: You find yourself thinking about the nature of obsession -- the book's first subject -- about witchcraft, about the positioning of the dots of the "i"s on the first printed pages, about Judaism, about the effects of the plague, prostitution, medicine, about whether the point of the printing press was to erase the personality of the scribe the better to let the words speak for themselves or whether the beauty of early printing was actually in the idiosyncrasy of a given type face, about hypocrisy, betrayal, loyalty and disgrace. In short, 15th-century Venice slowly comes alive.

The story is really two stories, although they are always linked. Story one is about the fate of an alluring Jewish girl, Sosia Simeon, married to a good Jewish doctor whom she despises, but loved by (and lover to) many men of all ranks -- in particular the young editor Bruno Uguccione, who adores her even more abjectly than the rest. Sosia herself is a committed sensualist -- she feels everything on the skin and nothing in the heart. The only man she really wants is Felice Feliciano, the great scribe, "whose tawny colouring and perfect features were one of the wonders of Padova." Story two (which I found the more engaging) is about the struggle and rivalries of Wendelin von Speyer, a Rhinelander who has come to Venice to set up a printing press. It is this second story that provides access to the inky world of early print: typefaces, books, poetry, lettering, words.

And words do matter to Michelle Lovric. She is, I think, directly present (brandishing her literary manifesto) when she has Felice write: "This is the true soul of Venice, this bubble city in my dreams. She's like a transparent floating book, where the pages are visible in colour. Not a thing of the mind but a piece of beauty dedicated to the senses alone." But it is only when Lovric devotes herself to the very real business of sentences rather than the seductive daydreams of her overall idea or setting, that she begins to reveal herself as a gifted and individual phrasemaker -- always revealing, never anachronistic, and never, ever lazy. This sentence, for example, captures the impetuousness of Bruno: "He watched the bird tracks fading slowly in the mud with an impatience no one else could understand." Or consider how she conveys the diversionary chatter of von Speyer's jealous wife: Her "lips all through supper snapped open and shut like travelling clams." And my own favorite passage, which describes the moment where Bruno opens the door to Sosia and realizes that the rest of his life will be "an exhilarating nightmare like a ride on a seabird's back through the dead of the night." Perfect.

Add to this writing talent the many other virtues Lovric brings to "The Floating Book" -- a command of her subject that is so intimate that it is almost indecent; a similarly intimate facility with Catullus's poetry, which she translates herself; her thorough and (more important) judicious use of her prodigious research -- and you can begin to see how rewarding The Floating Book can be. In this age of "creative" writing courses, lowest-common-denominator fiction and the staggeringly overrated "art" of the screenplay, it is refreshing and heartening to read a book by a writer who is genuinely interested in words.

Reviewed by Edward Docx


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description ReganBooks, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. 220 x 142 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Venice, 1468. Wendelin von Speyer has just arrived from Germany with the foundations of a cultural revolution: Gutenberg s movable type. Together with the young editor Bruno Uguccione and the seductive scribe Felice Feliciano, he starts the city s first printing press. While Bruno and Felice become entwined in an obsessive love triangle with a beautiful Dalmatian woman named Sosia, Wendelin tempts the fates by publishing the first edition of the erotic Roman poems of Catullus -- a move that will enrage the church, scandalize the city, and change all of their lives forever. The Floating Book is a ravishing novel of letters and lust, intrigue and betrayal -- a chillingly beautiful debut that few readers will soon forget. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780060578572

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