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Saturday, 20 June 2009
The Madonna Of The Almonds
by Marina Fiorato
The opening of this novel has a dreamlike, almost trancelike quality to it. The writing holds you suspended in a bubble and keeps you focussed on the events unfolding before you.
However, it is when Amaria Sant’Ambrogio bounces on to the page that the novel really takes off. Vividly drawn, she is a character so full of life that the narrative can barely contain her.
If you take these elements and add to them financial intrigue, war and a romp through the world of Leonardo da Vinci, you have a truly original novel.
One of the things that works really well in this story is the contrast between the two female lead characters. Amaria represents nature and simplicity, whereas her counterpart, the ‘limpid and moon-distant’ Simonetta di Saronno (the Madonna of the title) represents all that is cultured and sophisticated.
The very different love stories of Simonetta and Amaria run in parallel through the book only colliding as they rush towards the climax.
Many intriguing themes are used to good effect in moving the story along. The theme of people pretending, or appearing to be something they are not is explored throughout the novel. Religion forms another theme. The iconography of Christianity illustrates and illuminates many scenes and an unflinching view is offered of the horrors and evils of anti-semitism. The heartbreaking conclusion of this theme brought tears flooding to my eyes.
The scent of the almonds themselves pervades the text. The use of language and imagery is powerful as Simonetta is likened to the almond trees. She employs their sweetness to her own ends, and eventually she also finds a fitting use for the bitterness of almonds.
There is a certain inevitability about the ending which brings all the elements of the tale to a satisfying conclusion.
Reviewed by Helen M Hunt