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The Botticelli Secret - Marina Fiorato

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE TITLE (and, to a certain degree, the text also) has eerie echoes of Dan Brown’s controversial but highly lucrative novel The Da Vinci Code but can Marina Fiorato’s The Botticelli Secret emulate its phenomenal success? I don’t think so. Yet neither can it be dismissed as inconsequential.

Set in 15th century Italy, it’s the story of Luciana Vetra, a beautiful (and doesn’t she know it) 16-year old prostitute living and plying her trade in Florence. However, her life changes when she poses as the goddess Flora for Sandro Botticelli’s painting La Primavera.

Having unwittingly displeased the Florentine artist by extolling the virtues of her native Venice, Luciana is dismissed without payment. However, in recompense, she steals an unfinished version of the painting – only to find that someone is ready to kill her to get it back.

As friends and associates are murdered around her, she enlists the help of Brother Guido della Torre, a handsome young novice at the monastery of Santa Croce, safe in the knowledge that he will never expoit her beauty. Together, they attempt to decode the painting’s secrets before they too are killed.

The Botticelli Secret is nicely written and it’s certainly not short on intrigue but I felt it borrowed too heavily from Brown’s earlier novel. As well as the glaringly obvious similarity (a hidden meaning within a famous work of art), there’s the murderous leper, Cyriax Melanchthon, a somewhat second-rate imitation of Brown’s albino monk, Silas.

And Brown apart, there’s even a line straight out of a 1984 Madonna hit (just for the record, The Botticelli Secret was published in 2010). But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself (page 399, paperback edition). A bit cheeky, don’t you think?

Luciana and Guido are, as you might expect from their chosen lifestyles, as different as the proverbial chalk and cheese, which is no bad thing as it creates a simmering sexual tension. However, Luciana’s language is both crude and salacious and may well offend some readers.

On a more positive note, Fiorato’s descriptions of the great cities of Renaissance Italy – Florence, Pisa, Naples, Rome, Venice, Bolzano, Milan and Genoa – are fascinating and obviously well researched. As indeed is the interpretation of Botticelli’s masterpiece – not actually her own but one put forward by Professor Enrico Guidoni of the University of Rome. Hence the name Guido.

Despite its shortcomings, The Botticelli Secret is an addictive read. Besides, like its predecessor The Da Vinci Code, it turns the spotlight onto a work of art and in so doing, presents it to a much wider audience. And that, when all said and done, can only be a good thing.

So, if history, art and romance are your kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed. If they’re not, you might well be pleasantly surprised.