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A sorcerer in wax. A fugitive. Haunted by a past he cannot escape. Threatened by a future he cannot imagine.
Zummo, a Sicilian sculptor, is summoned by Cosimo III to join the Medici court. Late seventeenth-century Florence is a hotbed of repression and hypocrisy. All forms of pleasure are brutally punished, and the Grand Duke himself, a man for whom marriage has been an exquisite torture, hides his pain beneath a show of excessive piety.
The Grand Duke asks Zummo to produce a life-size woman out of wax, an antidote to the French wife who made him suffer so. As Zummo wrestles with this unique commission, he falls under the spell of a woman whose elusiveness mirrors his own, but whose secrets are far more explosive. Lurking in the wings is the poisonous Dominican priest, Stufa, who has it within his power to destroy Zummo’s livelihood, if not his life.
In this highly charged novel, Thomson brings Florence to life in all its vibrant sensuality, while remaining entirely contemporary in his exploration of the tensions between love and solitude, beauty and decay. When reality becomes threatening, not to say unfathomable, survival strategies are tested to the limit. Redemption is a possibility, but only if the agonies of death and separation can be transcended.
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
Good writing but a bit slow
Good writing, but the plot is a bit slow. It was enjoyable to read about Italy in the 1700s and what life was like back then. This isn't a page turner. But I liked the characters. The "secrecy" theme is very subtle.
(3.5 stars) Set during the days of Cosimo III, Secrecy is a fictional account of the Sicilian wax sculptor Gaetano Zummo. Zummo left Sicily at 20 under suspicious circumstances and has always felt he was on the run, always looking over his shoulder. He ends up in Florence and gains the Patronage of the Grand Duke, Cosimo who wants him to sculpt him a woman of wax.
Thomson does an excellent job a detailing and describing 17th Century Florence - where hypocrites of the state and church cruelly punish anyone guilty of just about all pleasure. The Duke confesses to Zummo all about his tortured marriage, while those around the Duke find reasons to question Zummo's life. I loved the description of Florence and having visited there a few years ago, I could not only picture the sites such as the Uffizi, Bargello, and Sante Croce as they are now, but also as they were in the 1600's. Not only was Florence well drawn, but all of the characters were wonderfully described. The process of how wax was sculpted was also detailed - anyone who enjoys art will find it fascinating.
The novel's opening was a bit slow and the framing story was difficult to connect until the very end, but once it was moving it held my interest. There was some intrigue and there were great connections between different aspects of the story that pulled it all together in the end. Beyond the plot, the story explored the idea of art and sensuality, art as representative of something larger in life, and of hypocrisy.
The frame story, distracting at the beginning, eventually makes sense and surprisingly, led me to sympathize with a character that through one character was painted as whole unsympathetic.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, and while it's true strength is in the vivid descriptions and details, had a good plot and well done characters and delved beyond plot to explore larger issues. The slow beginning, and some areas that fell flat kept it from being a solid four, but it was worth the read.