Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review: Secrecy by Rupert Thomson

Rupert Thomson, the author of this most excellent novel Secrecy has passed completely under my radar. It's always exciting to find an author you like and Thomson's writing is sublime. His bibliography is wide; the author of nine novels. The fourth The Insult was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, his sixth The Book of Revelation was made into a film and Death of a Murderer (2007) was shortlisted for Costa Novel of the Year. His foray into non-fiction with his memoir This Party's Got To Stop won him the Writer's Guild Non-Fiction Book of the Year. So with all that going on how have I missed him!?

His most recent novel, Secrecy, was published in March.

Thomson studied Medieval History at Cambridge and he draws on his historical expertise in the telling of this story which is based on the life of the Sicilian wax artist, Gaetano Zumbo. Zumbo is famed for his plague pieces, wooden cabinets containing wax creations of the dead and dying which can still be seen in particular in the scientific museum La Specola in Florence.

‘The Plague’ in its cabinet at the La Specola museum in Florence

Set in Florence, this novel is about Zummo's wax art works but it is primarily about his relationships- with his family, with his patron the Grand Duke, with a young boy who assists him and with his lover. In fact, although Zummo is a very solitary man when he works, his life touches many people and Thomson weaves this mysterious story with his rich and evocative prose. The descriptions are always enough to conjure an image, sometimes exquisite and sometimes painful, but never too much to take away from the tale he is telling, never too much to distract from the character we are following, Zummo, as he finds his place and works to establish relationships to hold him there, only to often have them questioned or pulled out from under his feet often due to his identity as a Sicilian in Florence.

The descriptions of the techniques used to create the wax artworks are fascinating in themselves. But it is the characters that hold the story together so well, maintaining the readers interest right to the close of the story, still uncertain of how it will end. A well written historical novel, alive with the sights and sounds of seventeenth century Italy and the rotten smell of corruption.

Published by Granta.www.grantabooks.com

(Those interested in the background to Thomson's writing of this novel may like to red this very interesting article on the subject http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/758a1fb6-807a-11e2-aed5-00144feabdc0.htmSiracusa#axzz2dqgC1CtA )

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