Dunant fills her books with fascinating historical details, but she also finds relevant resonances to our own time. In Venus she wrote of Savonarola, the historical priest who bears a striking resemblance to today's fundamentalist fanatics, while in Courtesan she explores a society that offered very limited options to women, a situation sadly still true in much of our world.
Courtesan is a meditation on the differences between appearances and inner qualities, but it is never predictable or sentimental. It's not giving away much to say that no knight in shining armor rescues Fiammetta, no beautiful princess falls in love with Bucino. But, as in Venus, Dunant's characters triumph in their experience of love, that "fever from which no one wants to be well."
Sarah Dunant reads from In the Company of the Courtesan at Nicola's Books on Wednesday, March 1.
[Review published March 2006]