Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Venetian’s Wife

‘The year is 1469. Niccolo Dei Conti stands atop the steep hill that overlooks his villa on the outskirts of Venice. He clenches his fists, raises his arms to the heavens and bellows with anger and frustration at the storm raging around him. He demands that the lightning strike him down and rid him of his old age and loneliness. The storm is unobliging…

He’s considering the solitude and his wifeless bed when a visitor arrives. She moves like Mercury, circling the room, touching with golden fingers the pots, pans, candle holders and all things metal. She discovers the knife that Niccolo Dei Conti’s hand rests on, and because his feet are firmly planted on the floor she burns his heart out… But his journey is not over. He has been a traveler all his life and he still has far to go.’

Thus begins an odd and fascinating quest, a collaboration between the 15th century Venetian and a 20th century art restorer.

Yet again a Chronicle book has caught my eye, almost calling out to be held again, if nothing else, to admire the design and artful publishing. The book is The Venetian’s Wife, by Nick Bantock, a name familiar to many from the series of Griffin & Sabine books published some years back. This book is a little more complex, certainly longer, but having that dreamlike, otherworldly style which characterizes the writer’s other books. The story’s main character, Sara Wolfe, works for a London museum restoring paintings, thoroughly bored with ‘conserving’ mediocre Victorian portraits, feeling her talents are wasted. But… ‘Sara Wolfe is about to fall backwards. The thick walls that separate the past from the present are crumbling, but she doesn’t know it yet…’

The truth is, many details of the story are not clear in memory, since it has been five or six years since I read the book. Turning the pages of the book today, reading a paragraph, a page here and there was stimulus enough to assure me I could read the book through again with first-time pleasure. The virtuosity of Bantock is his rare eye in combining of text and image, his ability to bring a tactile sense to his story. The images or graphics serve to heighten the phantasmagorical quality, the illusory nature of what is happening to the young woman, Sara.

The pleasure of reading The Venetian’s Wife derives from a collaboration of writer, graphic designer and publisher, complementing each other in a seamless flow of beauty. There is a quality to this book that suggests a fuller dimension in both storytelling and publishing, and if you’re looking for a good read, then I heartily recommend you explore the exotic world of Nick Bantock books and his collaboration with Chronicle.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America