This is the sort of book to take away with you on a wet weekend as it immediately conjures a sense of the hot sun of Renaissance Italy.
One of Gabrielle Kimm's strengths is that she is able to convey that heat and light to someone like me, sitting in Cumbria with the grey rain sheeting down outside. Her other strength is in describing the minutiae of life in a Tuscan estate, including a wonderful description of the kitchens, the intricacies of falconry, the manufacture of lime, and most of all the lost art of fresco painting.
'Flight of Aeneas from Troy', fresco painting by Girolamo Genga, 1507-1510, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena.
Impeccably researched, the history is woven fluidly into the plot so that you never feel as if it is slowing the story.
The plot is fast-moving and unfolds from the poem with inevitability, but there is a twist in the tale which is very satisfying to the reader - I shan't spoil it for you though.
Lucrezia comes across as a sweet-natured heroine, out of her depth in a marriage to the sinister and controlling Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara. In many ways his conflicted character drives the book, and the reader is both fascinated and repulsed by his developing psychology.
In terms of the poem, Gabrielle Kimm has managed to make sense of the hidden story behind the monologue, and I doubt if I will ever be able to read the poem again without remembering this book.
One word of warning though for parents and teachers who might buy this book for a child who is studying the poem -
best read it yourself before giving it to younger readers - not just because it is an excellent book, but because you might want to check out the adult nature of the themes before passing it on.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the character of Francesca, Alfonso's whore, is one I look forward to meeting in Gabrielle's next book, The Courtesan's Choice.
My Last Duchess
That's my last duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will't please you sit and look at her? I said "Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps Frà Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps "Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint "Must never hope to reproduce the faint "Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart how shall I say? too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, 'twas all one! My favor at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men good! but thanked Somehow I know not how as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech which I have not to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this "Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, "Or there exceed the mark" and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and make excuse, E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master's known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretense Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay we'll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!
Word addict, book addict. Nature, art and poetry fan, and writer of thought-provoking historical fiction, published by Macmillan/St Martin's Press/Endeavour Press
Creative writing tutor and writing mentor.
HIGHWAY TRILOGY BOOK TWO - based on the life and legend of heiress and highwaywoman Lady Katherine Fanshawe
Paperback and Ebook
HIGHWAY TRILOGY BOOK ONE 'Terrific' - Gabrielle Kimm, author of His Last Duchess
Paperback, ebook, audiobook
A DIVIDED INHERITANCE 'stellar historical fiction' - Orange nominee Ann Weisgarber
THE GILDED LILY 'There is no greater compliment than 'Give me more!' Susanna Gregory 'Beautifully written and meticulously researched, the novel drew me straight into the teeming streets of Restoration London. an addictive, page-turning read.' Mary Sharratt
Hardback, Paperback, ebook
THE LADY'S SLIPPER 'Top Pick!' RT Book Reviews 'Highly recommended.' The Historical Novels Review 'Brilliant saga' Romance Reviews Today 'Rich and haunting' Reading the Past 'Riveting narrative' For the Love of Books 'Complex and engaging' Bookgeeks 'Utterly captivating' Karen Maitland, author of The Owl Killers