BOOK TITLE: The Book of Human Skin
AUTHOR: Michelle Lovric
My adventures with books in Italy are unending. Wandering on the streets of Bologna I found this awesome bookstore which happened to have an English-books section, so I couldn’t help myself and I browsed its pretty shelves in search of a book with the action in Venice (a city I already visited and based on my experience with reading a book in which he action revolves in a place you’re visiting or you’ve visited it seemed like a pretty good idea) and that’s how I came across this interesting and magnificent book. I have to admit it, I was really drawn to the cover and when I saw the description I was hooked.
In a nutshell…
The story revolves around a family of Venetian nobles, the year is 1784 and many things are happening from a historical point of view in Europe. The well-respected Fasan family welcomes into the world its second child and heir, Minguillo Fasan. Unfortunately, even as a little child Minguillo doesn’t quite rise up to the expectations of his parents and he is soon despised by them and also by the staff of the family. He is quirky and often cruel to every creature around him and slowly through the book we discover that the only thing he seems to love is Palazzo Espagnol, the place he lives in and hopes to inherit some day.
Twelve years later, when another sibling appears, all of Minguillo’s hatred is directed towards the enchanting Marcella, who ultimately turns out to be one of the main characters of the book. Their journey is a very interesting one, full of unexpected turns of event and characters who shape the story into much more than you can imagine at the beginning of it. I am not going to spoil your surprise and I am going to allow you to discover for yourself what all this is about, with just a mention of a few other notable characters that will arise in this book. One of them is located in Peru, another place where some bits of our adventure take place – important bits! – and is actually a nun, Sor Loreta. She is a very intriguing villain and the way she manages to extend her religion and her relationship with God into a state of madness is actually dumbfounding; she has an unusual need for revenge and a desire of mutilating herself as much as possible in order to be the beloved bride of God.
We also have doctor Santo Aldobrandini who even if in the beginning of the story seems misplaced and you don’t really understand his purpose in this whole business you slowly begin to grasp what role he plays in this whole madness and really appreciate him; and also Gianni delle Boccole who is a faithful servant of the Fasan’s and who even if he is presented as a simple man, quite uneducated, is extremely observant and with a good heart and makes an interesting character.
The struggle and the growth of the characters I will let you discover for yourself as you will find it an exciting and rewarding journey.
And now to analyzing a little bit this unusual book.
I have to say that it is interesting how the book is not structured in chapters, but rather by character, meaning that each character has a few paragraphs and gives us a certain perspective regarding the situation and then another character shares his/her story and so on. At first it is kind of hard to follow because all the characters have rather short pieces of story and they keep intertwining, but once you get the hang of it… it becomes rather addictive and you keep turning the pages in order to see what a certain character will do or say next.
I also like the fact that there were cultural and historical references regarding those year all through the books and that somehow the potential of Venice and Peru was exploited heavily from this point of view.
I probably mentioned this before but I have to underline this aspect again… giving the writing and the story and the way the historical elements were combined, this book is like no other I have ever read before. It has a very distinct air, probably because of cultural approach and also the period of time in which the action is placed… even if I can’t really find a right word which would sum up the experience I had while reading the book, I think the best thing to do is to tell you that is really worth a try and that even if maybe it is not everybody’s cup of tea and some elements might seem slow or misplaced, I truly enjoyed the ride.
The characters are unexpectedly complex and I think you will thoroughly enjoy Minguillo with his dark humour and his sometimes cruel but fascinating behaviour and at the same time you will also love Marcella who is kind and thoughtful of every creature surrounding her. There are many witty characters in this book who add flavour to the book and deliver unexpected twists.
So, don’t forget, it will not be an easy ride but it will quite an experience and every experience, good or bad, is welcome. Enjoy the reading!
Overall rating: 5 stars
Goodreads link: The Book of Human Skin