Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker
Eighteenth century Venice is an era of decadence and sin, intrigue and corruption, illicit romance and dark secrets. Carnivale and the wearing of opulent masks make hiding while in public easy. Trysts and illicit encounters abound. Danger and violence lurk around any chosen corner. Under this magnificent and glamorous backdrop, the lives of three young girls, Adrianna, Elena, and Marietta, intertwine at the “Ospedale della Pieta” a renowned music conservatory for orphaned girls.
Adrianna, the most famous and most highly revered singer of the Pieta gives up the opportunity for a sensational career in the opera to marry a talented Venetian mask- maker whom she has fallen deeply in love with.
The beautiful blonde and blue-eyed Elena catches the attention of Marco and Fillipo Celano, two brothers from a very rich and powerful family. She is in love with and betrothed to Marco, but when he suddenly dies before their wedding, she must become the wife of his brother, Filipo, a man who is ambitious as well as dangerous. To maintain his lofty position within the Celano family, Filipo must sire an heir, but Elena remains barren. The more desperate he becomes for an heir, the more he turns to violence towards the gentle Elena.
The rich voice and beauty catapults Marietta into top spot at the Pieta. She becomes one of the most famed singers of Venice. Her notoriety draws the notice and love of a handsome Frenchman named Alix Desgrange. Their plans to elope are ruined when Alix’s guardian learns of the tryst. The two lovers are forever separated when Alix must marry someone else in his homeland of France.
Several years pass. Marietta receives a marriage proposal from Domenico Torrisi. The Torrisi and Celano families have been mortal enemies for many years. Once she marries into the Torrisi family, she will never be allowed to see Elena again. Both husbands forbid the two women to maintain their friendship. With the aid of Adrianna, Elena and Marietta begin to meet discreetly. Their friendship continues under these clandestine conditions. Further, they develop a repertoire of secret hand and eye signals to communicate with each other whenever in public.
Clandestine meetings, secret births, murder, vengeance, vendetta, betrayal, and political intrigue decorate this intricate plot. I was easily drawn into the story as the simplicity and joy of life for the three “Pieta” girls deteriorate.
Rosalind Laker vividly recreates the mystique of the “golden age” of Venice where sin can hide behind the mask of the wearer. She has wonderfully portrayed the decadence of Venice. The reader will be swept away on a heart-wrenching journey of violence, trickery, and dark secrets. The story’s realistic sub-plots of hatred and obsession draw the reader deeper into the tale. The rich decadence of Venetian life of centuries past, unforgettable characters, and the roller-coaster of twists and turns sprinkled throughout the story, make this an unforgettable novel. The stories of the three girls and the hardships they must overcome is endearing. The ending does not disappoint. I recommend this unique novel for anyone who wants to vividly experience the rich culture of the ancient city of Venice.