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Secrecy This isn't Thomson's first foray into historical fiction see Air Fire but it was definitely a departure from his last novel Death of a Murderer As usual Thomson's ability to paint a vivid picture of the novel's setting is in full force Thomson's fascination with the macabre and the darker side of human psyche is once again front and center in this beautifully rendered mysteryromance His characters always have a bit of the unexpected to them and as you get deeper into the novel the revelations become surprisng and unsettling He paints his characters and the world they move through like a watercolor transparent in parts layered and luminous in others Although this wasn't my favorite novel of his that would have to be The Insult or The Book of Revelation this is a great introduction to one of today's best writers in my opinion He's got a fantastic back catalog and he never fails to disappoint with each new title I enjoyed and disliked this book in almost eual parts On the one hand the language is beautiful the characters are interesting and the setting 17th century Florence seems meticulously researched On the other hand it has a creepiness about it which I found off putting to read the prologue gives away twists that would be better held until the book's ending and somehow I didn't get any sense of place I learned a lot about Florence at that time but I never felt like I was thereThe story is about Zummo a wax sculptor who has come to Florence after a scandal forced him out of his native Sicily The scandal is not explicitly described and there is some doubt over whether it was true or not He comes to work for the Grand Duke of Florence a complex character who was scorned by his wife and whose children have all gone off the rails Florence is a dangerous place both literally with murders in dark alleys at night but also in the sense that someone is always watching and is ready to have you arrested When Zummo falls in love he exposes both himself and his lover to danger As the title alludes secrecy is everything Zummo is secretive about his past his techniues his assignments and of course his relationship Faustina his lover also has her own secrets At one point she comments I've got mystery in me than all these people put together But in fact almost every major character is hiding something So an intriguing plot in a fascinating setting but somehow it fell short for me of what it could have been It is Florence 1691 The Renaissance is long gone and the city is a dark repressive place where everything is forbidden and anything is possible The Enlightenment may be just around the corner but knowledge is still the property of the few and they guard it fiercely Art sex and power these as always are the obsessionsFacing serious criminal charges Gaetano Zummo is forced to flee his native Siracusa at the age of twenty first to Palermo then Naples but always has the feeling that he is being pursued by his past and that he will never be free of it Zummo works an artist in wax He is fascinated by the plague and makes small wooden cabinets in which he places graphic tortured models of the dead and dying But Cosimo III Tuscany's penultimate Medici ruler gives Zummo his most challenging commission yet and as he tackles it his path entwines with that of the apothecary's daughter Faustina whose secret is even explosive than hisPoignant but paranoid sensual yet chilling Secrecy is a novel that buzzes with intrigue and ideas It is a love story a murder mystery a portrait of a famous city in an age of austerity an exercise in concealment and revelation but above all it is a trapdoor narrative one story dropping unexpectedly into another the ground always slippery uncertain This is a very striking book one of the best novels I've read for uite a while The last uarter or so didn't uite work so well for me or I'd have given it five stars The writing is nothing less than brilliant impressive than Mantel's in Wolf Hall for my taste as it's much concise and compressed The evocation of place and time is amazingly vivid and visceralI was attracted to this book by its setting in Florence—not the familiar world of Renaissance Florence but the decadent Baroue world of the later seventeenth century The subject also struck me as fascinating the protagonist is Gaetano Zumbo called Zummo in the book creator of the astonishing disturbing borderline deranged wax sculptures of plague scenes in the museum at La Specola I saw these first on a special late night opening when I appeared to be the only person in the museum not an easy experience to forgetThe best part of the book for me is its remarkable evocation of Florence and the eccentric and perverse world of Cosimo III de' Medici's court The characters are fabulous from the strange young daughter of Zumbo's landlady—like most figures in the book damaged physically or emotionally in some way—to the eccentric French acrobat who lives upstairs from him to the drunken vomiting Medici princeling Gian Gastone the jovial anatomist Pampolino and his urchin sidekick Earhole damage and the affable but almost bound to turn sinister at some point ducal secretary Bassetti The grand duke himself is a memorable monster and perhaps—aptly enough—just about the most damaged character of all The arch villain Stufa is perhaps a mite too villainous for my taste but he’s fun in a grand guignol kind of way Elements I wasn’t uite so taken with Zumbo’s backstory in Siracusa; the love story; the frame story that comes in at the beginning and end But these are uibbles it’s an excellent novel There’s a scene near the beginning where Bassetti gives Zumbo a ‘welcome to Florence’ gift of a truffle that reveals itself when cut open to be full of maggots It strikes me as not a bad metaphor for the book itself—in a good way A lot of the material is very dark and these are not the last maggots we see One historical footnote although she appears once only briefly in person in the novel we hear a lot about the nightmarish ultra pious dowager grandduchess Vittoria della Rovere Stufa’s patron who is pretty much held to blame for what is wrong with her son’s Florence and there’s a lot This used to be pretty much how Vittoria delle Rovere and all the seventeenth century Medici wives were regarded but there has been a lot of research on them recently and they are emerging as much interesting and less stereotypical and grotesue figures Vittoria was responsible for founding the first all female literary academy in Italy and I think Europe among other things I don’t think you’d guess that from her portrayal here This book confused me a lot I wanted to DNF it at least a few times but I kept going although I didn't see any point Also it was kind of disgusting Definitely not a book I'd recommend I so much wanted to like this book From the sumptuous cover with gold titling and a pregnant woman half hidden by drapes of crimson you are prepared for a feast by the wonderful designers at Granta The wrappings far outweigh the contentsLet me say Rupert Thomson is a good writer But good writing cannot disguise a messy meandering plot with characters who are unengaging glibly described and unmemorable There are lines in this book that I highlighted with a yellow marker pen but so too are there pages of sheer absolute tedium BABTBBC BLURB Some see you as a master craftsman Others say you're a sorcerer You're mysterious obsessive ControversialZummo a 17th century sculptor makes things out of wax figures so lifelike they look as if they might move and breathe He has journeyed throughout Italy over the years in an attempt to flee his past Now in 1691 he has been summoned to the Medici court by the Grand Duke of Tuscany He arrives in Florence a city in which everything was forbidden and anything was possible But what does the Grand Duke have in mind for him?Ten years later Zummo visits a convent in France and tells the whole story to Marguerite Louise of Orléans long estranged wife of the Grand Duke of TuscanySecrecy is a tale of love art murder and concealment enacted within a beautifully realised 17th century Florentine and Tuscan settingSome of the 'plague pieces' by Gaetano Zummo 1656 1701 can be found in La Specola FlorenceRupert Thomson is the author of eight highly acclaimed novels including Death of a Murderer which was shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Novel Award His memoir This Party's Got to Stop won the Writer's Guild Non Fiction AwardEpisode One In 1701 a frail dying Zummo arrives at a French convent He has a story to tell His audience? Marguerite Louise of Orléans former wife of the Grand Duke of TuscanyReaders Greta Scacchi and Owen Teale Abridger Jeremy OsborneProducer Rosalynd Ward A Sweet Talk Production for BBC Radio 4half way through this should of been blindingly interesting given the time the gore factor the morbid artistry All I kept noticing was a spider web formed overnight between that delicious photo of the Nofolk sands and the wind up pendulum clock And how about the windows?; fully fly blown25 upped to 3 because it is such a lovely sunny warm day2 Divided Kingdom3 Secrecy Wonderful historical thriller set in 17th century Florence The novel drew me in by its fantastic sense of place and time and then I got engrossed by the plot and the characters A very satisfying read great for book clubs since there are a number of moral uestions to discuss I look at this cover and goWhy can't we have gifs as names of shelves? Forced to flee his native Sicily Gaetano Zummo journeys first to Naples then to Palermo before being summoned to Florence at the reuest of Cosimo III de Medici himself The Grand Duke of Tuscany is interested in Zummo's skill as a sculptor in wax and offers him a special commission in reward for a generous stipend However Florence in the late 17th century is not an ideal place for a wax sculptor with a particular interest in the macabre; people vanish in its dark suffocating alleys and anOffice of Public Decency has been established to enforce strict laws which prohibit even minor display of affection between unmarried residents Everybody whispers rumors full of suspicions and everybody has a secretSecrets should not be a surprise in a novel titled Secrecy and Thomson delights in having a multitude of them From the method he used to frame his story having Zummo retell it to another character with much of what we know of other characters are in fact their own stories that they relay to him it is worth noting that like Cosimo III de Medici Zummo was a real person but unlike the Grand Duke little is known about his life leaving Thomson plenty of space to make him an intriguing character Still fictional Zummo is just as shrouded in secrecy as his real life counterpart I never felt that I gained an understanding of what drove him forward what motivated his interest in body decay and corruptionThomson is a good writer and Secrecy is full of descriptive passages which give the book a dreamlike hallucinatory mood Readers will feel the eeriness and uneasiness creeping up on them like Tuscan heat thanks to Thomson's elegant and succinct prose one almost expects Savonarola to rise from the ashes to again proclaim Florence a city of God and burn Zummo's sculptures on one of his bonfires presumably along with our heroWhere secrecy disappoints is its meandering plot and the very bland characterization and almost forced romance between Zummo and his love interest Faustina There is just very little characterization to Faustina she is presented as a woman full of mystery a fact that she herself acknowledges in the narrative and who has many secrets which she does not want revealed The problem is that aside from her obligatory physical beauty this very mystery i the only characteristics that pull Zummo to her logically in hopes of one day uncovering them and understanding her While a part of Faustina's story is eventually reveled to the reader it felt artificial as if inserted to shock and not reveal the real character behind the veil of secrecy Secrecy is a novel which could have been truly wonderful Thomson is a fine writer and his setting and themes are fascinating; however I thought that he himself had no clear idea what particular direction he should pursue with this novel and it ended up being all over the place Despite its good ualities it is an easy book to put down it lacks something to grab the reader and refuse to let go If you are curious about Rupert Thomson I would advise to skip it and go to the book which was my introduction to his work and which I consider to be his great accomplishment The Insult