For The Someday Book

Book Review: The Birth of Venus

Posted on: November 6, 2010

The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant, Random House, 2003, 403 pp.

After reading Sacred Hearts, I was eager to read more from Sarah Dunant. Thanks to Juniper, I had a chance to read her most popular novel The Birth of Venus next.

The Birth of Venus is set in the late 15th century in the city of Florence, during the unraveling of the di Medici rule. The book starts with a prologue that details the death of an elderly nun, a death which unexpectedly contains elements of mystery. The novel then proceeds from the time that nun was 14 years old, and tells the story of her life, which was full of passion, sexual exploration, art, history, violence, and more. In other words, not what you’d expect out of an elderly nun.

I enjoyed the book, but it was more beach reading than substance or lasting depth. Dunant is a great storyteller, and her characters, historical research and ability to construct entire worlds made The Birth of Venus a really fun read. Her prose is solid and evocative, but it does not arrest you, and it’s not the kind of book I felt compelled to slow down and savor. It’s a good story, and you want to just keep turning pages. I stayed up until 2:00 a.m on a Wednesday just to get to the end.

In the end, I think I enjoyed Sacred Hearts much more, because I was more intrigued by the setting, exclusively in the world of women inside the convent. The Birth of Venus was a more traditional historical novel, but it still centered on a smart, independent, creative woman trying to make a meaningful life in a time and place that does not accommodate women’s intellect or passion. I love those kinds of stories, and I had a good time reading this one. I’ll be looking for more from Sarah Dunant next time I get an escapist urge to immerse myself in a novel.

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2 Responses to "Book Review: The Birth of Venus"

Hey J,
Just finished Sacred Hearts (the one good thing about a kid in the hospital is that you can get a lot of reading done!) and I agree it’s a better book. Or maybe it’s just that I liked the characters more, and could relate to them more? Anyway, I agree the all-woman cast was compelling and it came to a satisfying conclusion, too. Looking forward to more reviews/recommendations from you!

Other J.

Glad you enjoyed it–but even more glad your little one is home!

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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