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Essex delineates the confusion of historical events and historically accurate personalities with clarity, but she never...

In her third historical novel (Pharaoh, 2002, etc.), Essex shifts her focus to 15th-century Italy, where politics and art determine the private ambitions and intrigues of the Estes sisters.

Intellectual Isabella marries the handsome soldier Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, in 1490, when she is 15. The following year Isabella’s younger, tomboyish sister Beatrice marries the older, more controversial Ludovico, future Duke of Milan and patron of the wily Leonardo da Vinci, who creates his art according to his own schedule, despite Ludovico’s best attempts to control him. Leonardo has used Ludovico’s current mistress as the model for his classic The Lady with Ermine. During Beatrice’s wedding festivities, Isabella sees the painting, recognizes Leonardo’s genius and determines that the Maestro must paint her too. Meanwhile, Ludovico, for whom the adolescent Beatrice is little more than a baby-making machine, flirts with Isabella. Drawn to Ludovico’s intellect and his ambition, Isabella carries on a torrid year-long correspondence with Ludovico, but events and Francesco’s jealous suspicion keep them apart. Beatrice longs for her husband’s affection. When she finally gives Ludivico an ultimatum, her sudden gumption charms him into love and fidelity. Now Isabella, stuck in the boonies of Mantua, is the one pining, not for Ludovico but for the immortality Leonardo’s portrait would bestow. Unfortunately, protocol demands that Beatrice be painted first, and Beatrice does not want to be painted. For her, immortality resides “at the end of my husband’s cock.” With Beatrice’s help, Ludovico uses Milan’s fortune in military and political intrigue. Beatrice dies in 1495, age 22, after discovering Ludovico has cheated on her again. After Ludovico’s ultimate defeat by the French in 1499, Isabella, safe in Mantua because Francesco has not involved himself in Ludovico’s battles, invites Leonardo to visit. He sketches Isabella, but never completes the painting.

Essex delineates the confusion of historical events and historically accurate personalities with clarity, but she never quite achieves a sense of human urgency.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51706-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2005

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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