THE TIME RETURNS by Alexandra Ripley


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In The Time Returns Ripley makes an easy leap from the antebellum South of her earlier historicals, Charleston (1981) and On Leaving Charleston (1984), to 15th-century Florence. Her choice of period and locale proves fortunate, too, because she catches the fabled urban republic at its artistic and political zenith, peppering the pages of the novel with cameo appearances by painters and sculptors like Leonardo, Botticelli, Verrochio and Michelangelo--to mention only a few--and with references to the schemes of the crassly nepotistic Pope Sixtus IV, the fanatic priest Savanarola, the mad Neapolitan King Ferrante and the militaristic Milanese Duke Lodovica Sforza. From the color and turmoil of this Renaissance tapestry emerge the book's main characters, Lorenzo d'Medici, a.k.a. The Magnificent, unofficial ruler of Florence from 1469 to 1490, and his purely fictitious lady love Ginevra, daughter of the traitorous family of erstwhile Florentine aristocrats, the Pazzi--who provide this novel with its early (and only) high point in their staging of an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Lorenzo. The City is seriously shaken by the coup, as are alliances on the Italian peninsula, for the Pope, it appears, conspired with the Pazzi. In reprisals in Florence, Ginevra--still little more than a precocious child--is orphaned and brutally raped, and although saved and nursed back to health by Lorenzo, she mistakenly thinks he initiated the destruction of the Pazzi and therefore plots to kill him. But as she recuperates and accompanies him on an impossibly difficult diplomatic mission to Naples (the Neapolitan king keeps captured enemies in cages in the garden for amusement), love supplants hatred, especially once she learns the truth about the Pazzi rebellion. Alas, though, Lorenzo is a married man. He finds Ginevra a capital companion and comes to depend on her sound advice and intelligence-gathering abilities, but he never thinks of her romantically. And so, with no mutual chemistry going between hero and heroine, the second half of this novel slips into a quagmire as artists dash in and out, Lorenzo weakens from the gout, and Ginevra checks out sex with a loathsome Milanese artist's model and fancy man, France Soranza. Happily, not too late for Lorenzo and Ginevra, Botticelli shows The Magnificent--by sketching faces on a tablecloth--that all the women he's been involved with have been reflections of Ginevra, and Lorenzo acts on his realization. So, although not always fleetly paced, and without the brash characterizations and romantic tension that would really fuel this sometimes repetitive, sluggish plot, Ripley's third novel gets good marks for the vividness of the period and place it recreates, for its avoidance of melodramatic overstatement, and for the simple fun of the real famous people who march across its pages.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday