A mix of fact and fiction juxtaposes the brief life of Roman poet Catullus with the sensation caused by the first printed edition of his highly charged poetry in 15th-centuryVenice.
Catullus arrived in Rome in 63 b.c. and promptly and permanently fell under the spell of a heartless, despicable noblewoman named Clodia. His sensual poetry addressed to her resurfaced in Venice during the late1400s, when most of Lovric’s bulky debut novel takes place. Wendolin von Speyer—who, like many of the characters here, actually existed but whose portrayal here should not be taken literally—has recently arrived from Germany with his printing press in tow. He falls deeply in love and marries the earthy, enchanting Lussièta. Meanwhile, Sosia, a Dalmatian Jewess whose rape as a child has damaged her soul, begins a journal describing all the Venetian men she sleeps with, most for money. Several powerful noblemen are thoroughly besotted with her, as is von Speyer’s young editor Bruno. The scribe Felice Feliciano is the one man Sosia herself loves, but he loves only books and, secretly, Bruno. Von Speyer’s publication of Catullus’s poems creates a public outcry and private crises. Sosia’s licentiousness gradually takes over her intellect. In the meantime, misunderstanding and distrust worm their way into the von Speyer marriage. Eventually, thanks to a mix of magic and/or happenstance, Sosia is destroyed, like Clodia before her. (Eaten up with venereal disease, she is accused of witchcraft.) Bruno finds a love worthy of his virtue, Felice sacrifices for his love, and the von Speyers regain their marital equilibrium. Lovric juggles these love stories and half a dozen others, including her characters’ passion for the written or printed word, but her own true love is Venice itself. The novel is rich in sensual descriptions of the city and its citizenry.
Maddeningly over the top and self-important, but as seductive as Venice.