The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric
|The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric|
|Genre: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: This wonderfully vivid novel set in eighteenth century Venice and Peru is both utterly addictive and utterly strange. It's witty and wise and horrific and clever. Awesomely researched and with some of the clearest fictional voices we've heard in a long time, this one is highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 512||Date: April 2010|
|External links: Author's website|
Ye can't take the slither out ovva snake.
So says Gianni, valet in a wealthy eighteenth century Venetian household. The master, a merchant, divides his time between Italy and Peru, where he deals in silver. But the merchant isn't the serpent - his son Minguillo is. On the night an earthquake ripped through Peru and deposited fanatical nun Sor Loreta at the convent in Arequipa, Minguillo was born - a serpent in his family's midst. His own mother couldn't bear to nurse him and his father went into denial, making more and more frequent trips to a South American home free of sociopathic progeny.
Minguillo's behaviour goes further and further beyond the pale and his chief target is his younger sister Marcella - the child for whom Minguillo has been disinherited. With only servants, an irascible artist and a lowly doctor to protect her, Marcella will need all the goodness in her soul to withstand her brother's onslaughts. Can she survive being crippled, declared insane, and sold into the clutches of the vicious Sor Loreta?
Could I just do a little dance? Would you mind? I loved The Book of Human Skin. It's truly wonderful - vivid, immediate, clever, peopled with wonderful characters, the sweep of history and the power of landscape. When you finish it, you really do want to stand up, do a little jig, and say, hey, that was fantastic. Told through multiple narrators, it's about skin - how a person's life is written upon it, how other people get under it, how we use and abuse it. Minguillo collects skin. Doctor Santo takes care of skin. Sor Loreta abuses hers in holy anorexia and scourging. And Marcella's skin is luminous enough to show her core of radiant inner beauty, no matter what horrors are perpetrated upon her.
It's a massive book in scope, strength and history and it took me a week to read it - not because it was dense or difficult, but because rushing would have felt like such a disservice. The research is absolutely awesome and there's such a powerful intelligence behind it, but these things don't interfere with the characters or narrative and there's never a feeling - as there is with some books - that you might not really be quite good enough to read it. Lovric bundles up her cleverness and her knowledge and uses it to delight, not confound. Fans will be glad to learn that the artist Cecilia Cornaro from previous Lovric books gets a great supporting role - and indeed there isn't a character that will leave you unmoved. It has some of the clearest fictional voices that I've read in a very long time. My favourite was Gianni's - rough, goodhearted, self-deprecating, and the kind of friend we all wish we had.
Highly, highly recommended.
My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.
It's a fantasy retelling of the Snow White and Rose Red fairy tale, but Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan has much in common with The Book of Human Skin - equally absorbing, equally unflinching, and equally vivid. I think you might like it. The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff might also appeal - it's intended for teens, but it stands up perfectly to adults.
The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.
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Michelle Lovric was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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