By: Alessandro Manzoni
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
‘I pity this house; the curse of God is hanging over it’.
Set in Lombardy during the Spanish occupation of the late 1620s, The Betrothed tells the story of two young lovers, Renzo and Lucia, prevented from marrying by the petty tyrant Don Rodrigo, who desires Lucia for himself. Forced to flee, they are then cruelly separated, and must face many dangers including plague, famine and imprisonment, and confront a variety of strange characters – the mysterious Nun of Monza, the fiery Father Cristoforo and the sinister ‘Unnamed’ – in their struggle to be reunited. With a vigorous portrayal of enduring passion, The Betrothed‘s exploration of love, power and faith presents a whirling panorama of seventeenth-century Italian life and is one of the greatest European historical novels.
Goodness, how long has this book been on my TBR pile? At least a good five or so years…I had the eBook sitting on my Kobo but it took a reprint through the new Pocket Penguins series and a scheduled flight to finally read this book.
Well, I finally read it, hurrah. I was happy, but I was also happy when I got to the end of the book :3 Let me start with the positives: it’s an interesting panorama of seventeenth century Italian life, from the politics, the social structure, the role of the Church, the economic conditions. No stone was left unturned pretty much in this 800-page book as much of the contemporary political situation and events were addressed and woven into the plot, particularly that of plagues hitting parts of the Italian region, famine, and riots threatening to destabilise the countryside and the cities. It can be a bit overwhelming and dry at times as there would be pages of narrative just describing the one issue or the other, especially in the latter half of the novel.
Having said that, poor Renzo and Lucia, the couple at the heart of this book: they just want to get married and they find themselves thrown from one obstacle to another, and cruelly separated for much fo the novel. It’s through this separation that the reader is diverged into exploring these various events and realities existing in this period of Italian history, as well as encountering a variety of characters from all stages and walks of life and their respective backstories. Again, it’s interesting enough, but sometimes it does feel like the narrative goes off on a tangent of its own and the plot is forgotten for pages at a time; it can leave the reader a little bored at times if you’re not as interested or invested in a character.
The Betrothed is a dense read that requires a lot of concentration–not something to read lightly whilst on break from work! (as such was my case…or as an airplane read when you’re cramp in the cabin area)–but I’m glad nonetheless that I’ve read. It reminded me of Charles Dickens (see author tag) and the way it provides such an overview of life during a particular period in a particular place. If this sort of classic appeals to you, then definitely check this title out.