By: Alexander Lernet-Holenia, Ignat Avsey (Translation), Neil Gower (Illustrations)
Format/Source: eARC courtesy of the publishers via NetGalley
‘Love does not need any comforting. It does not even need requiting. All it needs is itself.’
Florence, 1502. Marshal Louis de La Trémouille’s small army has stopped off en route to Naples, to buy objects d’art for King Louis XII of France. Naturally, Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop is on the shopping list; and during their visit to his house, the young nobleman de Bougainville chances upon the not-quite-finished Mona Lisa. He promptly, utterly and hopelessly falls in love with the woman in the painting, and is determined to find her – despite rumours that she has long ago died. A visit to an empty tomb, assault upon an Italian nobleman’s mansion, duel and execution later, the secret of la Gioconda’s smile is (possibly) revealed.
An entertaining story, told with style – about love, life, art, and the Quixotic things that a man will do to realise his dream.
I found out about this novella whilst parusing through NetGalley a few months back (a dangerous activity–ended up requesting for a number of ARCs, lol!). I’m always open to checking out lesser-known authors and translated works and the premise of this title sounded really interesting. So I was quite delighted to learn that I was approved a copy of this book to read. This book will be available on 14 June 2016.
Wow, I was absolutely stunned by this novella. Spanning about 88 pages long (in the eARC at least), the storytelling was tight as it focused on the young Bougainville and his quest to first uncover the identity of Leonardo da Vinci’s elusive portrait and then to save her. I really felt for Bougainville, he really was certain of his own feelings and went through great lengths to find her and to keep her safe. Unfortunately things come to head as reality and conviction end up clashing in quite a climax. I should note that whilst the story was very much about Bougainville’s quest, the historical backdrop in which the story is set it was quite fleshed out, you could feel the precarious political situation that these characters were living at the time.
Interwoven throughout Bougainville’s quest are thoughtful ponderings of love and ideas surroundingly courtly love and the Renaissance attitudes towards women, deeper ponderings about smiling (who would’ve thought?) and the images we form about other people (who they are, their backstories, how we perceive them, etc.). I was quite moved by Bougainville’s reflection on love towards the end of the novella. While thoughtful and sad at some parts, the story was also pretty hilarious at some parts (Leonardo da Vinci’s ponderings early in the novella was quite the amble) and the author’s own wittiness also makes an appearance here (the footnote he added about men’s trousers in this period greatly amused me).
I don’t know what else I can say about this novella except that it’s fantastic, it was short but I found it to be quite a powerful piece; I could not put it down once I started reading it. I can definitely see why this book was described as “Quixotic” on the book blurb. I highly recommend this book if you’re into translated literature, classic turn-of-the-century literature, novellas, or just looking for a new literary title to read 🙂
p.s. The illustrations by Neil Gower peppered throughout were absolutely wonderful too! I thought they added to the story in their own way 🙂