Bucino is an ugly dwarf living and working together with Fiametta, Rome’s most beautiful courtesan. When the papal city is attacked the pair flees to Venice where they need to build their reputation anew. They receive help from La Draga, a blind healer whom Bucino distrusts immediately and Arentino, a satirical poet looking for a patron.
Sarah Dunant is one of my favorite authors because she brings renaissance Italy vividly to life. In ‘In the company of the courtisan‘ she takes us to the sack of Rome in 1527. The cruel fate that the Spanish, with the help of German protestants, inflict upon the city’s inhabitants is reported by Bucino, a dwarf who tries to protect his misstress Fiametta. As a courtesan she is subject to ugly humiliations during the night. Then the story switches to Venice, a city rich by trade with the Ottomans and Jews. A city of promise where the pair tries to rebuild their life.
I have never been to Venice, but this story makes we want to jump on the plane immediately. You experience the small dark streets and smelly water alleys through Bucino’s eyes and his special rational view on the world. I liked Bucino from the beginning, as he can be both invisible and attracting attention by his looks.
This may not be Dunant’s best book. The plot is a bit slow and not so much happens. But it’s an atmospheric novel with interesting characters. The book is full of outcasts. A dwarf and a courtesan, a converted Jew, a Turk and a blind widow to name just a few. Towards the end, you want to know if Bucino and Fiametta will make it together or not.
And for the art lovers, you get a behind-the-scenes look of the painter Titian creating his ‘Venus of Urbino’. I loved these parts!
What’s your favorite Sarah Dunant novel? I believe mine is ‘sacred hearts‘.