There are more watery adventure from Michelle Lovric, who lyrically explores the magic of Venice. The Water's Daughter (Orion, £6.99, 11+) is a thrilling Gothic fantasy about a girl who can see what once happened in a place by pressing her fingertips against its walls. When young boys start disappearing in Venice, Aurelia must use her ability to find them. This book is atmospheric and lush, for romantic adolescents stuck on staycations.
Imagine being able to hold history in your fingertips, to be able to touch a building and see through time to its stories! This wondrous novel will allow you to do just that! Aurelia Bon has magical fingers, she uses these for the purpose of selling books about her beloved city of Venice.
Venice is steeped in myths, legends and magic so what better place to set this story. Being Noble born, Aurelia will have to stop using her gift soon and become betrothed to Marco Spatafora, or she will face the convent of Padre Pino. Both choices fill her with dread.
Aurelia's ancestral home, long abandoned, is full of haunting legends and dark secrets. Boys are lured there and disappear forever. The last boy was Momo, and he was seen with a spectral glow about him before vanishing. The mystery of The Palace that Eats Boys is one Venetians are desperate to learn more about. Aurelia will use her gift one last time to share the secrets she learns from her fingertips.
When the crowd turn against her, she is kidnapped and taken to a place where her fingertips will be transplanted onto another who seeks fame and fortune. This dark and twisting tale is full of adventure and incredible characters seamlessly linked through Venice and its charm. A smashing story!
The Water's Daughter is the unique and interesting tale of Aurelia Bon – a young, twelve–year–old girl, who has the ability to see the events that have happened in a building, simply by placing her hand on the wall.
The power to trace history through touch leads Aurelia to a peculiar mystery. Why are all the young boys in Venice disappearing?
I am so excited to see this mixture of mystery and fantasy finally make its way into middle grade fiction. Often explored separately, I am yet to see these two genres come together in such an interesting way.
The Water's Daughter may just be the novel that fills a gap in middle–grade fantasy, by pairing mysteries and magical realism together in a children’s book.
Michelle Lovric writes fiction for adults and children: a common theme of all her novels is a Venetian setting, and it's very clear from a reading of any of her books that she knows Venice very well, and loves it very much – I think it could certainly be argued that Venice is absolutely at the heart of her writing. She also writes non–fiction; most recently she collaborated with Gemma Dowler on a book about her mudered sister, Millie Dowling, which topped the Amazon and Times bestseller charts. She's also compiled numerous anthologies.
This book, which is for children, follows on from several others set in the past, and in a parallel Venice . Geographically it's remarkably similar to the city we know today, but it also features a whole troupe of magical creatures. I was particularly delighted to meet the mermaids again: charming, beautiful, but very down–to–earth (!) creatures who live underneath the city and are distinctly foul-mouthed, owing to the fact that they learned their language from pirates. But new to this book is a whole palazzo full of magical creatures who have been transported (by mistake) from Arabia – including a beautiful and utterly amoral djinniya, who has great powers – which, fortunately for Venice, she is not very competent at handling.
Its human heroine is 12 year old Aurelia Bon, the child of appalling parents who at the beginning of the book are planning to force her to marry the unpleasant son of an unpleasant family; her only other option is to be immured in a nunnery. Aurelia is not the kind of girl to put up with this sort of treatment – she has an extraordinary gift (when she touches a building, her fingers sense its history) and with this, and with a naturally strong personality, comes a firm sense of her own importance. She runs away, and encounters all sorts of dangers but also all manner of wonders.
She has to battle against all sorts of enemies: a jealous historian who envies her ability to pull the crowds, and has designs on her magical fingers; her ghastly suitor and his family; the very creepy priest in charge of the nunnery; a bunch of pirates (who have lots of saving graces); a group of venal politicians/businessmen whose aim is to such Venice dry of her wealth; and the djinniya. The tussle between the latter and Aurelia is positively epic: they're both powerful, both very selfish, and both actually rather likeable – more so as the book goes on and they have to face up to some uncomfortable truths about themselves.
The book is a glorious flight of imagination, with excitement, humour and glamour in shed loads. I would put it at the upper end of middle–grade – particularly near the beginning, there are some quite scary bits, which might be a bit challenging for younger children – but for the right reader, it offers a gorgeously rich reading experience. And there are the other Venetian children's novels to move on to – it's not essential to read them in sequence. So much to enjoy!
A bookseller review for The Water's Daughter: from Sue Chambers at the Waterstones Finchley Road 02 Centre in London:
Another fantastic tale from Michelle Lovric with mermaids (yes, the mermaids are back! Which is wonderful – they are perhaps my favourite characters), a heroine with a remarkable sense of touch (to say the least), a land–lover of a hero (in Venice), a rather wild and fascinating Djinni and a wonderful feline Afreet...to mention just a few of the extraordinary characters in this story of revenge, history and power.
I loved it. My Dad, now aged 90 – has got a copy and is now settling down to read it, having fallen for Michelle's writing back in 2009... An atmospheric book rich in both plot and language – dark as Michelle's books so often are, so not for the squeamish. Definitely for those who enjoy that wonderful thing – a very good book – weirdly this is beginning to sound as though I'm advertising Mr Kipling's cakes...apologies... as much as the story, I enjoy the language. The characters that are so full and so intricate and so in character (if that makes any sense at all) – and of course Venice, herself.
If I never sold you a copy of The Undrowned Child – a lamentable situation, if ever there was one – then buy a copy of this. Sadly The Undrowned Child is now no longer in print – but you may be able to find a copy out there, but in the mean while – enjoy this latest celebration of Venice and revenge...
Orion Children's Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781444009972.
(Ages 14+) Recommended. A magical and mysterious adventure novel that follows a young orphan named Lily who has been raised in a cruel and lonesome convent at the inhumane hands of the badessa. Upon accidentally setting the convent aflame, Lily is sent to work in the Hotel of What You Want. Here she meets Ivo Peruch, the hotel's mysterious Boy-of-All-Trades who is cold and tight-lipped and makes her an accomplice in a dark act before she realises what she is partaking in. As the dark secrets of the hotel come to her attention, Lily's desperation to leave is only exacerbated with the arrival of a new guest, Deidre 'Darling' Dearworthy, who has a direct connection to the dark act still haunting Lily. As Darling quickly becomes Lily's first and best friend, she will do anything to keep her from suffering a deadly fate at the hands of the Signorina, the manager of the hotel. After the bones of Saint Lucy are stolen, Lily, Ivo and Darling band together to save Venice; facing countless dangers and adventures and meeting some magical allies along the way.
Lovric creates a vivid and historically detailed Venice with rich characters that provide a powerful message to the reader that you are not your past and that you can still be a good person if you've done things you regret. A powerful ode to resilience and the importance of the family that you make for yourself. It should be noted that this book is very grim and dark at times, with warnings for substantial themes of death, grief, loss, murder, supernatural themes and graphic discussion of dismemberment. Recommended for children aged 14+ for these reasons.
‘Let's not be counting our vultures,
till they be hatched.’
Those of you who frequent Waterstones Finchley Road O2 will be well aware of my passion (I think that's the best word to describe it) for Michelle Lovric’s Undrowned Child – which I reviewed way back in 2009 on W.com and then again, a few years later and since then a number of times on my blog.
This is Michelle's most recent Venetian tale. Once more, not for the feint-hearted: a story of murders, mystery and mermaids. A different tale – one of orphans, reliquaries and the trade in sacred relics…and so much more.
Another volume that seems to have been well and truly soaked in the waters of the canals in Venice. If you have read The Undrowned Child then this is one to reawaken that urge to visit Venice whether literally or within the boards of a book. If you haven't read The Undrowned Child, (I can’t see why you might not), then these two volumes make a wonderful pair of Venetian mysteries and will without doubt encourage you to visit (should you not have done so already), or to return to La Serenissima.
This then is a story of reliquaries and the trade in the remains of saints. If all the claims made around various saints are true, then a number of them, it would seem, had more than the usual quota of limbs, amongst other things. This story is about where those may have come from. A story that is as dark as many of the stories that colour Venice's history.
Not for the feint-hearted, as I said, but a book for those who can acknowledge the darker side of this extraordinary city, a book like no other. Apart from that other one, I may have mentioned...
New paperback cover from Bloomsbury 2015
The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, is published by Bloomsbury in June 2014 in the UK and in August in the USA.
This book is a delight from page one. And nothing has ever made me want to visit Ireland so much as this book did. That's not a burn against Ireland. But there was such a vividness of description, that smell, language, dialect, culture, history, legend, lore leaped off the page at me. The story of seven sisters, their abundance of hair, and the trials and tribulations that come as a result of this could have been the stuff of fluffy lightweight melodrama.
But I do not exaggerate when I say that nothing I have read in contemporaneous fiction, comes as close to resembling a Bronte novel as this one does. I'm not going to say which Bronte as we all have our favourites and dislikes and I'm not planning on prejudicing you one way or the other. The fact that there were seven sisters alone who formed the core of the novel's characters presents challenges in differentiation, but each sister was such a personality and had such a unique voice.
I was constantly on the verge of weeping at how beautiful a grasp of language Michelle Lovric has. This book could have been written in the 19th century. Every sentence and paragraph feels carefully thought through but not at the expense of pushing the narrative forward. Turns of phrase stopped me in my tracks and had to be re-read. This isn't a case of style over substance. There is a complete harmony at work here. … If you're someone like me who laments that they don't write them like they used to, do yourself a favour and read this book.
Review by Anton, April 4th 2014
In an early review of the American edition of The True & Splendid History of The Harristown Sisters. Karen Frank writes:
If the Swiney sisters were with us today they would be the stars of a reality show which would blow the Kardashians out of the water. Lovric bases her novel on an actual American sister act and resets the events in post famine Ireland. From starvation to world acclaim these sisters use their amazingly long and luxurious hair to rise to the heights as an entertainment sensation while falling victim to an unscrupulous 19th century marketing scheme. Alternately dark and delightful the story is a Gothic feast with plenty of meat.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, has written: ‘Michelle Lovric is devilishly clever, fiendishly comic and generally just an irresistible novelist. I delighted in every page’.
This is the riotous and true (!) tale of seven 19th-century sisters, who, with their help of their luscious long red locks, rose out of poverty in rural Ireland to become famous performers. Hooked from page one!
Company, June 2014
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric. Published by Bloomsbury
In the mid 19th century Europeans were fascinated with hair – specifically women’s hair, the longer the better, so when seven penniless sisters from Ireland with long, beautiful hair began a stage act that included singing and dancing they were an instant sensation. It may seem strange to modern-day folks, but during the Great Famine, people were looking for ways to take their minds off their troubles and what better way to do it then gaze upon the spectacle of these seven sisters with the flowing hair. Their popularity takes them from Ireland all the way to Venice, where they are courted, admired, and loved by all who see them.
Based on the true story of the Swiney sisters, Lovric takes a little known piece of history and breathes it into full and colorful life. Impossible to put down.
“This is story to sweep you up and spin you about like a mad Irish jig. It swirls you away amid giddy torrents of language into a fantastical, sensual, yet villainously comic world …
Lovric relishes language. You almost taste the words that twist round your tongue and burst open on your lips. Here are slanging matches in which curses are pelted like fistfuls of slime. Here are eddies of adjectives. Here are descriptions to reinvigorate even the most mundane scenes.
“Perhaps it is the rain forever scribbling on our roofs and our faces that teaches the Irish our unstinting verbosity,” says the auburn haired narrator Manticory. “ It’s what we have instead of food of luck. Think of it as a generosity of syllables, a wishful giving of words when we have nothing else to offer by way of hospitality: we lay great mouthfuls of language on you to round your bellies and comfort your thoughts like so many boileds and roasts.”
… the dark Freudian undercurrents of the fairytale are updated to deal with contemporary themes, among them the objectification of women and the right to privacy. As the compulsive power of her narrative increasingly overcomes the plangent mazes of her description, the reader finally realises that they are in the irresistible hands of a storyteller who portrays not just her period but human nature too.”
Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times, June 7th 2014
“Lovric’s tale is lush with delightful Irish rhythms and memorable characters.”
“The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a book permeated by a malignant sadness. Lewis Wolpert coined the phrase in his 1999 book Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression. If not technically applicable, the phrase definitely captures the underlying mood of this novel. Joy and anything approaching happiness are only very sparsely, and sometimes perversely, peppered throughout the novel. The melancholic expression of the red-haired girl on the front cover should have given me a clue. Yet, not far from her face are those words ‘true and splendid’ — and thus the peculiar beauty of this novel is expressed: in her delineation of destitution, fame and death, Michelle Lovric writes a truly splendid novel.”
“Michelle Lovric’s darkly lively vocabulary and fantastical storytelling makes me feel I could tumble down a rabbit hole into another, not entirely nice, world. The Harristown Sisters is the tale of seven Irish siblings, heart-breakingly poor but all with a gift valued by the Pre-Raphaelite age they live in: extraordinarily long flowing hair. And so they are whisked away into dubious society and dangerous fame. Just love her humour and magical flamboyance.”
Kerry Fowler, Sainsbury’s Magazine, July 2014
“Sometimes, all you want from a book is fabulous escapism, a rich and detailed plot, unusual and memorable characters, larger than life but oddly real, a bit of a saga, a bit of a fantasy, a dash of historical realism, an edge of melodramatic soap opera, all tied up with excellent writing and a cracking pace.
Image Magazine in Ireland chose The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters as its book of the month, describing it as “an addictively subversive page-turner.”
“Michelle Lovric’s The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a book which almost appropriates the adjective ‘fecund’ to itself by way of description, so much does its language teem with rich, sappy, loamy, fruitfulness, even to a glorious abandon of excess …
This is a Gothic, operatic book by virtue of the intensity of feeling and opulence, sumptuousness of language, the reaching of heights of ecstasy, the plummeting the darkness of jealousy, violence, betrayal and murder. But the whole is delivered with such vivacity, such joyousness and juicy humour and playfulness of language that it becomes a wild, frolicsome read, despite the savage undercurrents.
And lest the term ‘Gothic’ should fret potential readers who might fear the pages may romp with werewolves vampires zombies and such other silly company – fear not, the ‘Gothic’ relates to the architecture of the language, full of delicious crenellations and furbelows. There ARE monsters within these pages, and they are all of a very human kind, with no need for the agency of magic.”
“The book’s rollicking, earthy voice evokes 19th-century Ireland with gusto, and Lovric brings the sisters and their tangled relationships to life as they come full circle to confront the poverty and losses from their past.”
Publishers Weekly, USA, June 10 2014
From the very beginning Lovric’s use of language is as colourful as her story; her descriptions of Venice and its palazzos are particularly lovely. Manticory’s voice is vibrant, intelligent, endearing and, at times, very funny … It’s a thoroughly entertaining tale in which love, lust, tragedy, comedy and revenge all play their part, and it ends very satisfyingly.
“An admission: I adored Michele Lovric’s macabre, Orange long-listed The Book of Human Skin. A second admission, I have a lot of red hair. These two things combined, I was always going to love The Harristown Sisters - singing, dancing septuplets who social-climb their way from poverty-stricken Dublin to Pre-Raphaelite Venice on the back of their auburn locks. But, as with the fairytale spirit Lovric so successfully conjures, nothing comes without a price.”
‘There are books that you love, and then there are books that lift you up, spin you around, and then drop you back to earth, dazzled. ‘The True and Splendid Adventures of the Harristown Sisters’ is one of those books; a captivating story packed full of full of characters, incidents and images.
There were seven Swiney sisters, and they were all blessed with fantastic rivers of hair, cascading below their knees and ranging in color from honey gold to copper red to the deepest black. Darcy, the eldest, was dark‐haired and dark-hearted; twins Berenice and Enda bickered incessantly; Oona was gentle and fair; Pertilly was plain and Stolid; Ida was the youngest, a wild fairy queen; and flame‐haired middle sister, Manticory, would tell all of their stories and the stories of them all.
They were all beautifully, richly and distinctively drawn, and each sister has her own role in the story that was to come....
The telling of the story is sublime, the prose is gorgeously descriptive, somehow rich, poetic and earthy all at the same time. The settings are magically evoked, they live and breathe, and so many story strands ‐ same that are predictable and some that are anything but ‐ are woven together to make a glorious tapestry of a book.
There’s wit, there’s colour and there’s love threaded through what might otherwise have been a very dark story.
And at the centre of it all are those fascinating, infuriating sisters; they quarrel bitterly, they feud, they take sides against each other, but they also cling together and keep each others secrets. Such a wonderful portrayal of sisterhood! I loved watching them all interact, and their conversations were a joy.
I loved Manticory’s narration; I loved the way the story played out; I loved that there was a thread of feminism that was strained at the time but that never quite broke; I loved so many things....
This story was inspired by the true story of the ‘Seven Sutherland Sisters,’ who were once household names in America, who used their locks to sell hair products, who found fame and fortune; and who at one time owned the grandest of mansions where they lived together....
That story sounds fascinating, and really it couldn’t have inspired a finer fiction.
‘The True and Splendid Adventures of the Harristown Sisters’ more than lives up to its name; it pulled me into its world, it held me spell‐bound, and I was so sorry when the story was over and I had to let go’
‘This is a beautifully well written sensitive book! The descriptions are harsh, but accurate and the struggles of poverty and of being young unprotected women in a men’s world as described by Ms. Lovric is stripped of all romance. The story line is strong, the plot completely plausible and the pace is breathless and keeps you running page after page. There are lovely descriptions of Venice and the author lovingly details all its splendor and grandeur! But what really holds the book together is the characterization of the sisters; I have rarely ever come across an ensemble where the entire cast is so unique and glitteringly brilliant. Ms. Lovric infuses life, independence and exclusive personality to each of the sisters to make them stand apart from the other. Darcy is mean bully, Manticory the intellectual, Pertilly, the ugly one in a family of beauties, gentle Oona, the constant hatred of the twins and shy and sensitive Ida. As you follow the sisters through their rags to riches and then back to rags story, the reader is subjected the entire spectrum of sisterhood ‐ hatred and love, envy and generosity and while they slowly fall under different influences, they also cling together in their tribaldom. You might not like all of them, you may not even relate to all of them, but you cannot, you simply cannot ignore any one of them. They jump out of the pages of the book and grip your imagination and stay with you even after you have long finished reading it!’
There’s a string of interesting reviews on Goodreads too.
Reviews continue to come in for The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, including this one from Oprah.com in the USA, where it is published this month.
“How do seven impoverished, fatherless sisters from rural Ireland with only middling artistic talents rise to notoriety? Darcy, the leader of the tribe, bullies her sisters into taking to the dance halls of their famine-stricken hometown, with hopes of striking it big. At the end of each show, the girls turn their backs to the audience and let down their hair, which cascades, unfettered, to their ankles. They soon become a hit act. "Our hair had its roots inside us, but it was outside as well," says Manticory, the lone redheaded sister and our narrator. "In that slippage between our inner and outer selves—there lurked our seven scintillating destinies and all our troubles besides." The novel is loosely based on a true-life group of American sisters who leveraged their hair to fame and fortune, and is cleverly set during a period when the Pre-Raphaelite style signified romance and freedom. Each of the seven sisters—insult-spitting Darcy, sweet Edna, tender Oona, wicked Berenice, plain Pertilly, spirited Ida, keen-eyed Manticory—will experience heartbreak and violence, even as their stars rise. Read this for the story, which is wildly compelling, and also for the prose, as magnetic as the sisters themselves.”
National Geographic listed The Harristown Sisters at top of the Ultimate Summer TripLit Reading List for novels that ‘take you there’:“Hair! The Swiney siblings have a lot of it in this fascinatingly odd tale, inspired by real-life sisters who gain fame and fortune for their ankle-length tresses in famine-plagued, Pre-Raphaelite-era Ireland.”
Amy Alipio, National Geographic, July 14th 2014
More reviews for the UK edition:
“Vividly descriptive, it’s an extraordinary book …”
Choice Magazine, July 1st 2014
“The fifth novel from Michelle Lovric – writer of TheRemedy – is lined with a penetrating melancholic beauty.”
The Western Daily Press, June 28th 2014
Sunday Times reviewer Nick Rennison felt that the book was at times over-written but concluded that it “has a swagger and style that make it an enjoyable read.”
The Sunday Times June 29th 2014
Meanwhile, The Independent on Sunday named The Harristown Sisters as one of the best books of the year, in an alternative Man Booker List. Literary editor Katy Guest put the novel in the category of
“The Anne Enright award for the Irish novel most guaranteed to make you cry
Niall Williams wins this year's award on the strength of his title alone. History of the Rain (Bloomsbury) is described as a "rain-sodden history of 14 acres of the worst farming land in Ireland" but inevitably, given its author, it is suffused with warmth and humour.
As is The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, by Michelle Lovric (Bloomsbury), about seven Irish sisters in the mid-1800s, all of whom have extravagant, Pre-Raphaelite hair …”
‘Lovric puts her battling and embattled Swiney sisters into smaller and smaller corners, turning their tale into a full blown tragedy before it's all over. The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a dark tale, full of betrayal and unscrupulousness and pure creepiness. But I had a fantastic time reading it. Lovric's characters are so well-developed. Her plot overturns so many narrative conventions that I read with my iPad plugged into the wall for a few hours because I was running out of juice and I couldn't bear to leave off while it charged. I had to know what happened next. This is a brilliant, challenging novel.’
“Michelle Lovric’s delightful novel, narrated by Manticory, follows the Swiney Godivas from Harristown to Dublin to Venice. I loved the descriptions of the Swiney Godivas’ shows, in which they re-enact fairy-tales, myths and biblical tales, form tableaux of famous works of art like Botticelli’s Venus and plunder the works of Dickens, Thackeray and even Shakespeare for ‘hairy’ scenes and heroines for ‘tribute’ acts. The theatrical scenes are spiced by the sisters’ animosity towards each other, the surreptitious pinching and shoving, the whispers of ‘brown bitch heifer’ through the staged smiles”
American reviews continue for the newly published American edition of The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters.
‘Their tale is just as scandalous as a contemporary Hollywood tell-all, but with the delicious villains, mysteries and grisly deaths of a 19th-century penny dreadful. Plus, it’s beautifully told, with a keen sense of the era and its locals plaited deftly into the drama.’’
Morgan Ribera at Bustlenamed it as one of August 2014's Best Books:
“Michelle Lovric’s latest novel is a story all about hair — specifically long, cascading, floor-length hair. It stars the seven Harristown Sisters, all of whom have decadent heads of hair each in a different vivid shade. Impoverished, fatherless, and coming of age in the mid-1800s in a rural Ireland still suffering in the aftermath of the Great Famine, these seven sisters decide to use their flourishing follicles to change their luck, but with personalities as different as the color of their locks, their heads are bound to butt.
Together they become a talented, traveling celebrity septet, singing, jigging, and flashing their gorgeous, Rapunzel-like gifts to the delight of international admirers. From the dancehalls of Ireland to the lavish stages of Venice, their act will send them on a rollercoaster of wealth and fame, but these sisters will have to overcome their own differences and jealousies too in order to defend themselves against exploitation and obsession.
Rich with historic detail and inspired by the true story, Lovric’s imaginative new novel is an enchanting read, filled with adventure alongside lessons about glory, loss, and deceit, about financial hardship, sibling rivalry, and the consequences of celebrity. “
When Women Talks website named it as one of the seven best books published so far this year: “This is perfect for fans of historical fiction. Loosely based on a true story, it follows the lives of seven sisters with extraordinarily long hair, hair that leads them out of their poor existence in rural Ireland to the stage, riches and a palazzo in Venice. As well as being a great story, it also asks wider questions about female sexuality and experience, questions that are as relevant now as they were when this book was set.”
Mirella Patzer at The Historical Novel Review blogspot praised it:
‘It is a rags to riches to rags story that I found myself completely absorbed by. Each of the sisters was depicted with plenty of faults and qualities, which added to my interest in this fascinating tale. It is a roller coaster ride that takes the reader to joy, love, despair, and tragedy. This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it to book clubs as there is an avalanche of material that will lead to many a lively discussion. A lovely look into the odd and unusual lives of these fascinating women.’
‘Combining magical realism, just a hint of fairy tale lore and the real emotions of a group of sisters coming of age, Michelle Lovric’s The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a delightful, if sometimes dark, tale of love, family and loyalties … … It’s a funny fairy tale, with hints of Rushdie’s magic peeking through a mainly realistic prose and nods to the legacy and legend of Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude …and, if nothing else, exemplifies the perfect way to mix fairy tales and lore with the harsh realities of a nation’s, family’s and culture’s truths.
‘Lovric does a marvelous job emulating the rhythm and slang of the Irish language, making The Harristown Sisters raucous reading. What begins as plausible fiction moves through operatic highs and lows and a fair bit of magical realism (Darcy’s physicality begins to mirror her black soul) before the novel winds down. Seven sisters and a career spanning decades is a lot of territory to cover but with Lovric’s imaginative touches, The Harristown Sisters is a lively Irish tale.’
Back in the United Kingdom, reviews are still coming too:
“I want to mention the excellent descriptive writing in this book. Every time Manticory thinks of her childhood in Harristown, County Kildare, she remembers the ‘turf stoves, thin geese and slow crows’ until Harristown becomes almost a character in itself. Later in the book, the descriptions of Venice are particularly beautiful…
The palazzi and churches let their fretted stones hang down into our faces like beautiful, insistent ghosts. Beckoning lanterns hung at arched water-gates. Inside their houses, equisitely dressed Venetians displayed themselves in glowing tableaux so that each palace seemed to host a puppet theatre performing just for us. The city was mystical and barbaric all at once, a floating fortress so delicate that the fairies would hesitate to place the weight of their wings on it.
I also loved the images of the girls hanging their hair from the windows of the bell tower of San Vidal like seven Rapunzels and each of them standing in the bow of a gondola with her hair trailing into the boat behind. I could tell this book was written by someone who knows and loves Venice.”
Caroline Lennon's lilting performance is splendid in this lively look at morality and the Victorians' well-documented obsession with hair. In 1865, the seven Swiney sisters of Harristown, Ireland, are endowed with luxurious, lustrous, overabundant tresses--from golden to raven black--and beautiful voices. To avoid starvation, they become The Swiney Godivas, a vaudeville act. They sing, dance, and perform mini hair-related dramas, and as the pièce de résistance, they let down their hair. Lennon captures the melodic Irish rhythms in both descriptions and dialogue. Each sister's voice is unique--sweet or whiny or fierce. The story is based on the real-life Sutherland sisters of upstate New York, who were also known for their lavish locks. Top-notch listening.
Another review of those Harristown Sister
This is such a fun book. Black as all hell, but fun nevertheless.
It tells the story of seven sisters with outlandish names (I particularly fell for Pertilly and Manticory) and even more outlandish hair which, in the age of Millais's Ophelia, makes them popular with men of a slightly grubby, fetishistic persuasion, a couple of whom see a business opportunity and proceed to exploit the poor backwoods girls mercilessly. They are not alone, however: demonic eldest sister, Darcy ‐ who, in a surreal twist late in the book, actually becomes physically diabolical ‐ is a stunning literary villain, and from the very beginning, the reader's heart aches for her comeuppance. But this is just one of the many strands, woven like a lustrous auburn plait into a complex plot, that urges you through Manticory's narrative to the explosive denouement.
The characters themselves are key here, and all fulfil their given roles beautifully... It has something to say (perhaps about the eternal exploitation of women, perhaps about society's worship of the physical and vacuous, perhaps about the complexity of familial and romantic relationships...) but is above all, a beautifully written (I love the slow crows and thin geese), right rollicking adventure through poverty to wealth and back again, from Ireland to Venice and back again.
If Christmas is starting to take up all your time, and you need a book that will transport you from mundane everyday nonsense without feeling like you are feasting on cotton wool, this is perfect. Enjoy.
Germany - Marion von Schroeder
Czech Republic - Euromedia Group
Turkey - Inkilap Kitabevi
Poland - Bertelsmann
Spain - Grup 62
Portugal - Saida de Emergencia
Portuguese edition of Carnevale
German edition of Carnevale
Turkish edition of Carnevale
1782. The thirteen-year-old daughter of a Venetian merchant is lured from her bath by a cat and finds herself in the arms of Casanova – the legendary lover of women.
Twenty-five years later Cecilia is in Albania. She is now a portrait painter of great renown, her professional fame eclipsed only by her reputation as the last woman in Venice to have been loved by Casanova. Enter a young man from England, a troubled poet looking for adventure at any price – a man who begins his relationship with Cecilia with the announcement: 'I rather look on love as a hostile transaction.' He is George Gordon, Lord Byron, and with him Cecilia finds out about the darker side of passion.
'Lovric immerses us in the life
and loves of beautiful Cecilia, the artistic daughter of an
eighteenth-century Venetian merchant. The setting is faded yet decadent
– think gondolas, palazzos, delicate food and amorous trysts. It's a
lavish description of a sensual education that drips detail and drama.'
'This novel mixes fiction with
reality as surely as water mixes with the air and stone in that strange,
floating city. Part love story, part lesson in aesthetics, part history
lesson, this is a fascinating book.' Tatler
'A lush book, dripping with
opulent descriptions and elegant imagery … Ambitiously imagined.'
Australian Book Review
'Think gondolas and pigeons and
A Room with a View
… a dreamy, fantastical novel.' Sunday Business Post
'A dazzling baroque tale.'
'In terms of subject matter,
this novel has the lot: Venice in the dying days of the republic,
Casanova, Byron, sex and art – and talking cats … This is Lovric's first
novel. It's lush but composed and she clearly knows Venice intimately.'
'This is a novel that demands to
be taken seriously … Cecilia is a charming character, and ultimately
this is a touching, and in places even moving read.' Independent on
US - Judith Regan Books
Germany - Wunderlich
Portugal - Saida de Emergencia
Spain – Belaqua
Turkey – Bilesim Fuarcilik YS
Portuguese edition of The Floating Book
Spanish edition of
The Floating Book
Venice, 1668. Sosia Simeon, a free-spirited sensualist, is the lover of many men in the fabled city, though married to one she despises. On the edge of the Grand Canal, Wendelin von Speyer sets up the first printing press in Venice and looks for the book that will make his fortune. When he tempts fate by publishing Catullus, the Latin poet whose desperate and unrequited love inspired the most tender and erotic poems of antiquity, a scandal is set in motion that will change all their lives for ever.
'Lovric reveals herself as a gifted and individual phrasemaker – always revealing, never anachronistic. Add to this writing talent the many other virtues Lovric brings to The Floating Book – a command of her subject that is so intimate that it is almost indecent; a similarly intimate facility with Catullus's poetry, which she translates herself; her thorough and (more important) judicious use of her prodigious research – and you can see how rewarding The Floating Book can be … it is refreshing and heartening to read a book by a writer who is genuinely interested in words.' Edward Docx, Washington Post
'Meticulous historical detail and a splendid, complex story make this portrait of Venice and its denizens memorable and moving.'
'Lush, exotic and dripping with sensuality … A fantastic novel of epic proportions.' The Good Book Guide
'Lovric spins an intrigue-laden tale of destructive lusts and mixed-up loves in the early days of the printing press. She has an eye for sensual detail, conveying the sights and smells of the city's markets and palazzos.' Publishers Weekly
'A richly textured tale of love and learning, lust and superstition that is at turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, exhilarating and terrifying … It is a book that demands the reader's attention.' Philadelphia Inquirer
'The Floating Book, whose prose more stylishly mimics its subject than any novel in recent memory, is the sort of fever dream from which you prefer not to awaken. The denizens and doges of Venice make their most human way through the humid city of our imaginations.' Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Son of a Witch
'As erudite as it is erotic … utterly inhabiting the preening, wanton, indulgent spirit of the Venetian Renaissance as few before her. And where has one ever found such erudition coupled with Lovric's gift for sensuous detail, for such erotic heat?' Wilton Barnhardt, author of Gospel
'Opulent and ravishing – you find yourself thinking about the nature of obsession … about witchcraft … about Judaism, about the effects of the plague, prostitution, medicine … hypocrisy, betrayal, loyalty and disgrace. In short, fifteenth-century Venice slowly comes alive.' Washington Post
'A German printer of erotic poetry gets entangled with an adulterous Venetian hussy in this rip-roaring and intricately plotted historical novel, which evokes the atmosphere of the fifteenth-century city with a plethora of richly imagined local detail.'The Rough Guide to Venice and the Veneto
The Floating Book by Michelle Lovric, a sensual novel of 1460s Venice
Set mostly in 1460s Venice, the atmosphere of M. R. Lovric's The Floating Book resembles dark chocolate: alluring, richly decadent, and somewhat bittersweet.
The novel is an older title which I'd bought just after its publication but hadn't read until now ‐ my bad. The copy on my shelves is the Virago (UK) edition, from 2003 (with the gorgeous painting at left), but it was also published in the US under the author's full name, Michelle Lovric (below at right). The Goodreads reviews are all over the place: some readers adored it, while others couldn't finish. I decided to ignore the critics and dive in, and I'm glad I did.
The story follows a collection of intriguing characters as their lives become entangled. Sosia Simeon, a troubled young Jewish woman from Dalmatia, has a series of sexual liaisons with men ‐ she prefers Venetians ‐ while ignoring the older husband she detests, a caring Jewish doctor. Wendelin von Speyer arrives from Germany with his brother, Johann, and they secure a monopoly on the newfangled, controversial trade of mechanical printing. Several men grow obsessed with Sosia, including Wendelin's editor Bruno Uguccione (she becomes his first lover), while there's one who doesn't, to her dismay: the scribe Felice Feliciano.
In Italian, we learn, the word sosia means a lookalike, a theme Lovric skillfully plays with. The woman Sosia becomes the dark reflection of another character: Wendelin's bright‐haired Venetian bride, Lussiéta, whose first-person narrative enters the story partway through. Their marriage, blissful at first, grows progressively more strained. Wendelin's decision to publish the work of the Latin poet Catullus, whose frank eroticism shocked the ancient Romans and Renaissance‐era Venetians alike, seems to shadow all the characters like a dark cloud. Letters from Catullus himself, in unrequited love with the scandalous Roman noblewoman Clodia, add interesting parallels, since Clodia and Sosia have much in common.
What hits you first is the language, which reads like poetry:
"In certain light‐suffused mists, Venice deconstructs herself. One sees faint smears of silhouettes, and in these the architect's early sketches: the skeletons of the palazzi as he saw them on paper when they were only dreams. When the haze lifts, those buildings swell again with substance, as if freshly built. But until that happens the Venetians nose their way around their city…"
The Floating Book has as many moods as Venice herself: by turns romantic, industrious, seductive, joyous, and sinister. Lovric gives us many funny moments by introducing Wendelin's thieving cat and a letter from Wendelin to his former mentor at home, in which he despairs of his patrons' and employees' involvement with unsuitable women, not realizing they all are Sosia. We also have a multi‐page rant by a Venetian priest against the ungodly book, which is both hilarious in its over‐the‐top pomposity, and frightening in its fanaticism.
I confess I found the last part of the novel the least compelling, since the darkness that befalls nearly everyone doesn’t always make sense, other than it's a plot direction the author wanted to take. In other ways, though, the mysteriousness of the Venetian setting adds to its fascination. Even with so many facets of the city brilliantly illustrated, some aspects remain filmy and tantalizingly unknowable.
New paperback cover from Bloomsbury 2015
Bloomsbury electronic edition, 2013
US - Judith Regan Books
Portugal - Saida de Emergencia
Greece - Minoas
Holland - de Boekerij
Russian - Family Circle
US edition of The Remedy
Portuguese edition of The Remedy
edition of The Remedy
So at fifteen, spread belly-down upon the floor, a black sheet hunched over me and a candle at my foot and head, my lips pressed on stone, litanies in my ears, as the priest broke and entered my shocked fist to slide the ring on my finger, I promised to take no other husband than Christ. I almost meant it. In that heady moment the vow itself seemed no great sacrifice: I'd never known a man, but I had tasted chocolate ...'
One unforgettable night in 1785, in a theatre in Drury Lane, the heady alchemy of love and murder suddenly fuses the lives of Mimosina Dolcezza, a Venetian actress, and Valentine Greatrakes, prince of London's medical underworld. Dangerous secrets and elaborate lies soon send the lovers spinning in different directions, desperate for the truth not just about one another but also their own pasts. Their quest takes them from the dank environs of London's Bankside to the enigmatic city of Venice; her playhouses and brothels, apothecaries and quack doctors, spies and noblemen, her convents and her crypts.
'With vivid descriptions of the seedier parts of eighteenth-century London and the upper echelons of Venetian society, together with a series of intertwined plot lines that have the two main characters linked in a race through both cities, this novel makes compelling reading.' Sunday Times
'A rollicking read that evokes the squalor and danger of eighteenth-century Europe as well as it does the glamour.' Daily Telegraph, Australia
'This is a fast-moving tale of love, murder, and lust … Already an expert on Venice, Lovric has researched eighteenth-century remedies, and a recipe for a fascinating concoction awaits the reader at the start of every chapter.' The Good Book Guide
'There's a whiff of Patrick Süskind's Perfume
in the delicious and seductive recipes Lovric borrows to pepper her tale.'
Sydney Morning Herald
'A bodice ripper for the Mensa set, The Remedy
is a ravishing, meticulously authentic buffet of words and sensations … If romance, intrigue, and pantaloons are your thing, dear reader, salut!'
'A novel magisterially recorded … that makes a gift of splendid pictures, so that we seem to be there with the protagonists of the story, to breathe in the brocades and crystal of Venice, the fog of London's Bankside.' Federico di Nardi,
'From first page to last, Lovric transfixes one with her superb language, imagery and twists of plot. At no time does the confidence or quality of narrative falter. Referring to her novel, The Floating Book, one critic describes her writing as “Prose as luminous as a Venetian dawn”. I shall be watching for her next book.' Mslexia
'The book is a sublime example of the novelist's art … It is an extraordinary display of virtuosity, featuring passion, hate, fear, revenge, brutality, and kindness. It is a pleasure and a delight to read … Michelle Lovric has written a book which is every bit as good as those by Sarah Waters.
Grumpy Old Bookman weblog, April 18th 2006
Michelle Lovric's fourth novel, The Book of Human Skin, was published by Bloomsbury in April 2010.
You can read the first chapter
here. The Book of Human Skin is a story of unmitigated villainy, Holy Anorexia, quack medicine, murder, love and a very unusual form of bibliomania.
Midday, 13th May, 1784
An earthquake in Peru tears up the white streets of Arequipa. As the dust settles, a young girl with fanaticism already branded on her face arrives at the devastated convent of Santa Catalina. At the same moment, oceans away in Venice, the infant Minguillo Fasan tears his way out of his mother's womb. The great Palazzo Espagnol, built on Peruvian silver and New World drugs, has an heir.
Twelve years later, Venice is in Napoleon's sights and Minguillo, who has already contrived to lose one sibling, is listening to the birth-cries of his new sister Marcella, a delicate, soft-skinned threat to his inheritance. Meanwhile, at Santa Catalina, the scarred young girl has become Sor Loreta, whose craving for sainthood is taking a decidedly sinister turn.
Minguillo's livid jealousy will condemn his sister to a series of fates as a cripple, a madwoman and a nun. But Marcella Fasan is not quite the soft target Minguillo imagines. Aided by a loyal servant, an irascible portrait painter, a young doctor obsessed with skin, a warhorse of a Scottish merchant and a cigar-smoking pornographer nun, Marcella pits her sense of humour, her clever pencil and her fierce heart against Minguillo's pitiless machinations. Her journey takes her from Napoleon's shamed Venice to the last picaresque days of colonial Peru – where the fanatical Sor Loreta has plans of her own for the young girl from Venice …
'The Book of Human Skin', Michelle Lovric
"Vile and contemptible is the book that everyone likes." M.Lovric.
I have been doing some power reading - and some of the struggling kind thanks to Cromwell & Wolf Hall - over the past few weeks, only just getting to 'The Book of Human Skin' by Michelle Lovric last night. I need to finish it for next Thursday's Book and Booze Club - and for my own sanity.
It begins: "This is going to be a little uncomfortable".
One hundred and thirty-seven pages in and it is screwing up my real life. Darn that hideous, hazy state when life drags you from a disturbing read and places you in the company of others feeling disconnected and tongue tied.
This book might actually be rendering me speechless.
I must finish reading it so that I might, once again, function in life like a normal (relatively), fully engaged (partially) human being.
Uncomfortable it certainly is.
I am also thinking not the best genre for a book club on the lead up to Christmas. Sigh.
And am also really thinking I must get it read and resolved before I go to see my son in 'Miracle on 34th Street' next week........not convinced I want vile and contemptible swirling in my head alongside sugar, spice and all things nice.
'Rich, involving and brilliantly imagined.'
Fanny Blake, Woman and Home Magazine
'If it doesn't scoop all the prizes, we live in an unjust world. It's an absolute corker… It's years since I enjoyed a novel this much – or felt such strong envy of an author for having the breadth and richness of imagination to create such a world.AN Wilson,
'This is, essentially, a love story told by a delightfully riotous collection of characters and voices…Fantastically gripping.'
Eithne Farry, Marie Claire
'A witty, exciting, over-the-top page-turner which becomes increasingly addictive …Quite unlike anything else around – and all the better for that.' John Harding, Daily Mail
'Colourful, intoxicating and brutal.
'This book is fabulous - funny, horrific, subversive - in short a wholly addictive read. I don't think I have enjoyed anything as much since Perfume.'
'The Book of Human Skin is Michelle Lovric's fourth novel for adults, I am eager to read her backlist on the strength of it … the storytelling is superb … The Book of Human Skin feels epic in scope and has rich historical detail, while the narrative is cleverly handled with multiple viewpoints. Really a fantastic read, which does get under the skin.'
Emma Giacon, Book content manager, Amazon
'I cracked open The Book of Human Skin with the same frisson of apprehension and attraction that I remember on first meeting the Brothers Grimm with their cast of mesmerizingly cruel villains, resourceful heroines, penniless lovers, loyal servants, and the downright mad. You know no good will come of it. The best you can hope for—given a stage set with poison, flaying, torture, and plague—is that luck will intervene somehow and allow good to prevail. But how? I could not stop my fingers from turning the pages of this deliciously horrid tale with its terrors holy and unholy, its pleasures delightful and diabolical, and danger crowding on every side. But Lovric really saved the greatest surprise for the pages of notes that follow her tale: she is not making this up. Many of what seem like her most extreme and fantastical inventions are – appallingly— derived from the pages of history and our own deeply questionable obsessions, preoccupations, beliefs, and delusions. Disturbing? Certainly.'
Pauline Holdstock, author of Beyond Measure
'… a fiendishly gripping plot full of comically sadistic twists and turns.' Tina Jackson, Metro, April 2010
'Could I just do a little dance? Would you mind? I loved The Book of Human Skin. It's truly wonderful - vivid, immediate, clever, peopled with wonderful characters, the sweep of history and the power of landscape. When you finish it, you really do want to stand up, do a little jig, and say, hey, that was fantastic. Told through multiple narrators, it's about skin - how a person's life is written upon it, how other people get under it, how we use and abuse it. Minguillo collects skin. Doctor Santo takes care of skin. Sor Loreta abuses hers in holy anorexia and scourging. And Marcella's skin is luminous enough to show her core of radiant inner beauty, no matter what horrors are perpetrated upon her.
It's a massive book in scope, strength and history and it took me a week to read it - not because it was dense or difficult, but because rushing would have felt like such a disservice. The research is absolutely awesome and there's such a powerful intelligence behind it, but these things don't interfere with the characters or narrative and there's never a feeling - as there is with some books - that you might not really be quite good enough to read it. Lovric bundles up her cleverness and her knowledge and uses it to delight, not confound. Fans will be glad to learn that the artist Cecilia Cornaro from previous Lovric books gets a great supporting role - and indeed there isn't a character that will leave you unmoved. It has some of the clearest fictional voices that I've read in a very long time. My favourite was Gianni's - rough, goodhearted, self-deprecating, and the kind of friend we all wish we had.
Highly, highly recommended. Jill Murphy,
The Bookbag website, April 2010
'Five years after The Remedy comes the author's new novel for adults. This time she steps out of her Venice/London comfort zones and sets the action half in Venice and half in Peru, in the late 18th Century. The story tells of a Venetian merchant's family, where the father's frequent trips to Arequipa leaves behind a son whose behaviour goes beyond evil and a daughter whose goodness is surprisingly strong enough to cope. Things getting much worse is what the novel is all about, so I'll not give much more away. But as the plot develops the Santa Catalina convent in Arequipa (see photo right, by Graham Morrison) is a considerable centre of the action - the cloistered life being a not unusual theme in the author's works. The story is told by the main characters, in their own voices, and even in different fonts. Ms L's ability to well, be these different characters borders on the spooky - this is writing to relish and, I'd hazard, a good big notch up from her previous work in power and range. You'll need a pretty unsqueamish taste for fleshy concerns and visceral detail too, as physical afflictions and infections are dealt with in unflinching detail. The life of a person being written on their skin is a major theme here - the clue's there in the title. Venetian detail takes a back seat to the narrative sweep this time, but the city is still an essential element, with no other place possible for the plot's purposes. Fans of Michelle Lovric's previous work will revel in the reappearance of Cecilia Cornaro, the heroine of Carnevale, as a very central character. This novel will worm its way into your brain, get under your skin, and if your heart isn't faint it's in for more than a fair amount of activity too.'
'I am a big fan of Michelle Lovric's work for both adults and children (her Undrowned Child was my book of 2009 by a country mile), so when the lovely Kate from Bloomsbury sent me a review copy of TheBook of Human Skin, I was really looking forward to getting stuck into another densely woven, evocative story.
So, Lovric starts her tale with ''This is going to be a little uncomfortable'', and she isn't kidding. From sadism and violence, to insanity, to body dysmorphia and worse, Lovric takes the reader from 18thC Venice (she is devoted to the city and there is no one who writes about Venice with a darker or more delicate touch) to a Peruvian convent. The story is told by a bizarre cast of characters, creating a chattering cacophany of distinct voices clamouring to be heard. Whilst this does not make for the most easily accessible of narratives, this is definitely one to stick with and the pages soon turn themselves.
The story is fascinating, and Lovric's knowledge of Venice's trading empire shines through: the Fasan family, where her story centres, are traders in Peruvian silver and also Peruvian drugs. When only son Minguillo's inheritance is compromised by his sadism, which borders on insanity, his little sister Marcella is set to benefit. Minguillo begins a campaign not only to weaken his sister's mind, but destroy her personality. It is not enough that he drives her to incontinence through terror, he cripples her and later compromises her sanity. The things Minguillo does to Marcella are brutal and bear the special character of sibling torture and yet it is the little things Lovric throws in regarding his treatment of animals or distant, irrelevant figures that deepens the reader's knowledge of the chasm of awfulness that is Minguillo Fasan.
Add to this story a terrifying, passive-aggressive Holy anorexic (one of the most unpleasant characters I have encountered between the pages of a book), a doctor obsessed with human skin, a loyal servant, a Scottish merchant and a cigar-smoking nun and you have an especially Lovric sort of read. The book is ambitious, and the story not without snags, but her knowledge of setting, period and the essential weakness and isolation of human nature makes it a triumph. She is a pitiless writer, who revels in creating a cast of lovable rabbits, then setting a mink loose amongst them and watching it go about its feral business. Remember, it's going to be a little uncomfortable ...'
Georgian London website, May 2010
'For summer reading enthusiasts, this book should come with a warning: only to be read at the beach with a flagon of sunscreen to protect your tender human tissue because you will be mesmerized by this ornately wrought story set in late-18th-century Venice and Peru. As Minguillo Fasan, the villain of Michelle Lovric's fourth novel might say: Dear Reader, be completely assured you will fall in love with this gorgeously diabolical story of love, murder and obsession …
Lovric, whose third novel. The Remedy, was long-listed for the Orange Prize, has created a stunning book that combines masterful writing, meticulous historical research and an enviable ability to create characters so real that reading is akin to gliding through Venice in a gondola and observing up-close these lives and machinations. It's a deeply atmospheric novel, with Napoleon meandering through the pages like a vein, as the story flows through ancient convents, sailing vessels, lunatic asylums, mountains and grand Venetian mansions.
The author is a piece of exotica herself, dividing her time between a converted wharf in London and a palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice. When Lovric isn't writing her own fiction, she compiles anthologies and belongs to the Disinfected Mail Study Circle, an organization that studies antique letters contaminated with horrible diseases such as smallpox and the plague, and the efforts of port officials to disinfect them. The very inspiration for this story came out of an offer from a Venetian ephemera dealer who offered to sell the author a smoked and vinegared letter from 1789.
The Book of Human Skin is a lavish historical narrative with dramatic landscape and intricate plot that unfolds through multiple narrative voices, each offering a different perspective. Some are determined to save Marcella, and others are bent on her destruction. There are brother and sister, Minguillo and Marcella, the delusional and sinister nun Sor Loreta, the warm-hearted manservant Gianni delle Boccole, and the good doctor, Santo Aldobrandini, the quiet and impoverished lover of Marcella. In the hands of a lesser writer, the numerous points of view could be downright confusing, but Lovric presents a complete and complex portrait of each character.
Each character keeps a journal, and the five principal characters each have his or her own font. Initially a bit distracting, this device provides a visual texture to each distinct voice in this bizarre cast of characters, allowing them to inhabit their own skin, if you will, throughout the story. There is great sense of intimacy and confidence with each character, as they share their secrets and desires. Humour also courses through the story, at times perverse and at times warm and tender, when seen through the eyes of gentle Gianni, who risks his life time and again to stand between Marcella and her demented brother.
Simply put, this is a book about skin, skin as a metaphor for humanity, how humanity is contained, manifests and is perceived. As Doctor Santo records in his journal: “Perhaps this is why I have always loved the skin: because it is both the story and the storyteller.” Marcella's skin radiates an unearthly purity while Lor Loreta ravages her skin in deluded acts of faux humility. Minguillo's skin is hideously scarred from acne and it is he who introduces the reader to anthropodermic bibliopegy, otherwise known as the practice of binding books in human skin, of which he is a collector. Some people will get under our skin, some will tear pieces off, some will preserve and protect our skin. Ultimately, the story shows how lives are painted upon our very skin, that we become a tapestry for all to see, perhaps to covet, perhaps to despair, or perhaps to worship.
The book begins and ends with Minguillo's warning to the reader, that they might be a bit uncomfortable. And let there be an added caveat: Lovric's dark tale of familial woe and colonial intrigue will imprint upon the Dear Reader's skin in the way only a classic can.'
Christy Ann Conlin,
Globe and Mail, June 2010
'THE BOOK OF HUMAN SKIN is gripping, absorbing, distressing, amusing, and impossible to put down. The reader is warned at the outset that
''This is going to be a little uncomfortable'', and sometimes it is. The world it evokes seems at times the work of a fevered imagination, but it is all based on sound research. (Do not skip the Historical Notes at the end; you may be amazed at what turns out, after all, to be simple fact.) Though it reminded me at times of TRISTRAM SHANDY, the Marquis de Sade, and THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO, it is thoroughly contemporary and full of surprises, not the least of which are the reality that lies behind those staples of Gothic fiction, the nunnery and the madhouse. In short, it is not quite like anything I've read before and how rare is that!'
reviewingtheevidence.com, June 2010
'Insidious, disturbing and very, very cleverly written ... Schizophrenic in style; the narrative is splayed out from various perspectives and in numerous, distinctive voices; each of which benefit from subtle cues through their unique textual font … As the story turns on the idea of a book inhabited within human skin; so the novel itself is strikingly clothed: a bright red cover with dark black tinged pages conjures up blood and death and fits perfectly the macabre quirkiness of its contents. Lovric is a master storyteller. With effortless artistry, she creates a pervasive tale with the smallest and simplest of strokes.'
thetruthaboutbooks.com, April 2010
'Heed Lovric's warning: ''This is going to be a little uncomfortable.''
The ''gentle reader''
is given ample opportunity to back out, but from the first page it was already too late for me. I was entranced. This may not be a book for everyone as it pushes the reader into the depths of pathologically immoral, corrupt and diseased minds, and yet at its heart it is a soulful love story … Lovric plays the role of ringmaster masterfully with a sideshow of characters who are often beautifully but sometimes regrettably human. Unique and poetically tragic, The Book of Human Skin had me reading with sinful pleasure in its darkness, and revelling in its fable-like beauty.'
Bookseller and Publisher
magazine, Australia, July 2010
'This is going to be a little uncomfortable ...
And so begins this mesmerizing novel by Michelle Lovric. The Book of Human Skinis not for those with a weak stomach, or for those who cover their eyes during horror films. This book is dark, grim, and cringe-worthy; and it's a great read. The Book of Human Skinfeatures a wide cast of characters, from loving, devoted and kind to hateful, repulsive and insane …There is a love story and a mystery in this novel as well; basically it has everything. I highly recommend The Book of Human Skin. Just don't expect it to be comfortable.'
mynovelreviews.blogspot.com, July, 2010
'Perhaps one of the creepiest, most bizarrely interesting books of this century so far, The Book of Human Skin is both romantic and horrifying in its humour.
The title suggests it all, really. And it does make you rethink the enjoyment you may feel in reading a book cover to cover.
But what Lovric does that is so unusual is combine something truly disturbing, truly difficult to swallow, with a tried and true love story …
It would be possible to go on and on about this book, as it has many layers, including social, cultural, religious and familial aspects throughout its 476 pages. It is breathtaking, uncomfortable, and exceptionally unique in the contemporary canon of literature.'
'The exhibition [Skin, at the Wellcome Collection until 26 September 2010] comprehensively illustrates Lovric's book. Skin is the main character in her comic, gothic horror story: a black'n'white, good'n'evil story. The distinctive skins of the five voices of the book are constantly on display, even depicted by different typefaces on the paper skins of the book. As his own erupts in crops of maggoty pimples, the garrulous Minguillo Fasan pursues an obsessive desire to torment his beautiful and pusillanimous sister, Marcella, almost, but not quite, to the point of death. In balancing the evil characters, the other crazed lunatic, Sor Loreta, is determined to toy with her own life and masochistically destroys her skin in her madly competitive desire to appear holier than thou. And then there is the all-too-necessary resectioning of skin that the sympathetic young surgeon Dr Santo Aldobrandini has to practise, not to mention the bruises, wounds, diseases and other evidence of grotesque abuse witnessed by the noble servant Gianni delle Boccole. Nevertheless, the appalling Minguillo Fasan apparently has some redeeming characteristics: his love of his Venetian palazzo and of his books. As the story peels apart, this passion for books is revealed to be yet another grotesque compulsion, but one that rather satisfyingly supplies his nemesis. The author artfully implies this is not a nice book, and as she pulls us in, horrified and intrigued, we, the readers, become complicit in Fasan's crimes. Indeed, it's a truly nasty book …The exhibition and Lovric's novel each make it plain that skin is the principal component of our identity, both hiding and betraying our inner selves.'
Caroline Ash, Science, August 2010
at the turn of the 19th century in Venice
The Book of Human Skin is a compellingly macabre and horrific read. I couldn’t put it down
– just couldn’t stop turning the eloquently written pages! … Definitely my favourite read of 2011 so far and on my favourite authors
'Short, sharp chapters, multi-voiced
with the first-person villain exceptionally well portrayed. It is
difficult to write successfully about one so dislikeable but Michelle
succeeds admirably. We are at the turn of the 18th century in
Venice and Peru. Highly
' Sarah Broadhurst, Bookseller, May 2011
'Lovric has a passion for the history of Venice and of
medicine, and her encyclopaedic knowledge of these two subjects enrich
this, her fourth adult novel. Exquisite and inventive similes and
metaphors finesse her disturbingly clever narrative: forsaking even
‘whores so ugly that they had to give change’, Fasan reports after his
marriage to a fat heiress, "I worked my wife like a peasant works the
plough".' Gay Linch,
Transnational Literature, May 2011
books set out to give insight into an event, a real-life character or an
era – think of Girl with a Pearl
Earring or Arthur & George.
In others, the author accepts that the past is a foreign country, so you
might as well do things differently and let the imagination run riot –
Süskind’s Perfume, say, or
Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion.
The Book of Human Skin,
with its cast of grotesques led by an evil brother who collects books
bound in human hide and an anorexic self-harming nun with her one eye
fixed firmly on sainthood, falls unapologetically into the second
category, even if the Orange Prize-longlisted author includes 30-odd
pages of historical notes to assure us that she has done her research.
The setting is Venice and
at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. When the psychopathic Minguillo
Fasan discovers that he has been disinherited in favour of his sister,
Marcella, his bullying torture turns into murderous violence. He
cripples her in a shooting accident, has her declared mad and sells her
into a South American convent, where she falls into the hands of the
even crazier Sor Loreta. But their devilish plans are thwarted by
Marcella’s devoted friends, led by her impoverished admirer, the doctor
Santo, and Minguillo’s servant, Gianni. The story is told in bite-sized
chunks by their separate voices (each one, rather archly, given its own
The plot, in
which coincidence and a missing will play their parts, ultimately holds
few surprises: true love triumphs and the bad bleed as a result of their
wicked obsessions, but it is all entertainingly done, with some
ingenious twists on the way.
You won’t be
reading this for background on Napoleon’s campaigns in southern
or 18th-century smallpox epidemics, but you could do a lot
worse on the beach this summer.
Michelle Lovric’s deliciously macabre tale is played out
against the exotic backdrops of eighteenth century Venice and Peru.
Twisted Minguillo Fasan, collector of books bound in human leather,
plots to overturn his father’s will, destroy his sister Marcella and
inherit the decaying, gothic Palazzo Espagnol. There are a myriad of
characters and plot strands at play including a psychotic delusional
nun, a prioress with a penchant for Rossini, the trade in dangerously
fraudulent cosmetics, a missing will, letters passed in cobbled boots,
poisoned sword tips, Napoleon’s march against Europe, a portrait
painter’s affair with Lord Byron and of course the path of true love. As
with the best historical fiction invented characters stroll through real
events and rub shoulders with legendry figures. Michelle Lovric’s
research is meticulous and results in a rich and vibrant picture of a
bygone age which is the perfect setting for her fantastical characters.
The number of voices at work means it takes a little while to establish
what is going on, but it is worth it. Wickedly funny and totally
absorbing, this is a great read. If you enjoy Mervyn Peake or the magic
realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez you will love this.' Sally Hughes,
Love This Book blog, July 2011
'...what it’s really about is pain,
in all its guises: physical and mental, direct and consequential, as
well as its legacy, its inevitability, its endurance, and the sweet
and twisted pleasure that it can sometimes afford. I’m aware that
that doesn’t make it sound much fun, but it is; this book is witty
and delectable, ripe with gleeful insistence at the ostentation of
the characters - of which, Minguillo included, there are some
humdingers - and the fantastical audacity of the plot line (which,
as Lovric’s research summary insists, was not so fantastical at
all), which sees Marcella’s life turned by degree into a living
It’s rich and nasty and draws you in
like an illness, but never becomes too much as you are always being
switched to a different viewpoint (there are four) and a new
perspective on the connoisseurship of suffering. And when you are
reminded quite as often as we are throughout the book, from the
first page to the 466th, that ‘this is going to be a little
uncomfortable’, you slip into a different mindset, I think,
where you are both repelled and compelled by the revolting events on
the page. I know I was. ‘Pain never finishes, does it?’
Minguillo remarks with glee and, with this book as the proof, the
‘yes’ comes easily and stays. There is some horrifically dark
comedy, a profusion of touching and sad moments and a hope that
everything will turn out right and Minguillo will get his
comeuppance, which all combine to make a wonderfully vivid and
Minguillo’s characterisation is
magnificently riotous and seductive. He’s a superlative villain:
complex, colourful and self-reverential, mad as a box of frogs, of
course, and shot through with savage black humour and a wry wink of
knowing. He’s totally aware of the extreme
of his actions, but takes a sadistic pleasure in them that is quite
intoxicating. Listening to him in first-person also makes you
fascinatingly complicit, as he himself mentions at the book’s close
(‘Did I not take you, as promised, on a long walk in the dark,
and did you not choose me as your guide, by reading on? ...And so,
Dear Reader, my crimes became yours.’) I had chills; it was like
hanging out with a witty version of Ferdinand from The Duchess of
Malfi and somehow enjoying it.
His is also the perverse obsession
that gives the book its name, that is, collecting books bound in
you-guessed-it, and also gives the text its most enduring motif:
that of human skin. This Lovric uses beautifully. In brief:
Minguillo fetishes skin as an inanimate part of his grim library,
but is, as I’ve hopefully illustrated by now, psychopathiclly unable
to empathize or love; Santo, the doctor, loves skin as diagnostic
tool and falls for Marcella upon seeing her pale and luminous skin;
Sor Loreta, the fanatical Peruvian nun whose story runs parallel to
the narrations of Marcella, Minguillo and Gianni, Minguillo’s valet,
scours, scalds and flagellates her skin into a deformed and hideous
mess as proof of her religious fervour (I’m sure it’s not
onomatopoeic coincidence that it’s ‘Sore’ Loreta; gross); and in the
end it’s a character with a different skin colour, in a country
obsessed with skin colour (tambo, criollos, mestizos, mulatas,
moriscas, sambas and sambos, negros and negras, to name but a
few of the labels applied to those without limpieza de sangre),
that leads Marcella to eventual rescue and salvation.' Lyndsay
Tolstoy is my Cat blog, July 2011
'This is essentially a story about a young doctor who gets obsessed
by skin! But it's also a historical book. It's set in Peru and then
moveson to Venice. It is the most literary of the books and is very
challenging. It's hard to sum up but it's very funny.' Amanda Ross,
Daily ExpressSaturday magazine, July 2011
'Epic story of a Venetian merchant.' Heat magazine, July
right? Well it pretty much is - it is also marvellous and stuffed
full with villainy. This story is told by 5 different people,
aristocrats Marcella and Minguillo Fasan, medical assistant doctor
Santo, Peruvian nun Lor Soreto and manservant Gianni. Michelle
Lovric stitches her book together with these five strands and by
doing so she sculptures a 3D story that can be approached by every
angle. Only releasing information in teasing snippets, she leaves
the reader willing her to reveal more … This is a great commuter
book, the chapters are in bite-size chunks so you've got time to
chomp on a few chapters before you need to hop off the train. I'm
giving this book a 8/10, it is repulsively seductive and unnaturally
‘This is Michelle Lovric’s fourth novel for adults and like the
first three, it focuses on semi-fantastical historical settings,
with larger-than-life characters. She favours the later eighteenth
and early nineteenth century and individuals
and societies on the cusp of enormous change.
The Book of Human Skin
has a split setting – Venice and
– and a multi-spectrum narrative, which moves between five different
points of view, with many other voices woven into them. The lack of
one omniscient narrator keeps the reader on their toes as all the
characters are capable of deceiving themselves, each other and
ultimately, the reader.
It is worth saying at the outset that the book of human skin is what
it suggests. The novel’s central male villain, the grotesque
sociopathic Minguillo Fasan, enjoys a particularly horrible form of
bibliomania, even going so far as to have a copy of
Pride and Prejudice
bound in a slice of skin from a woman who died of puerperal fever.
Michelle Lovric’s note at the end of the novel tells us that there
is no suggestion that this object existed, but that it wasn’t
unknown for books to be bound in human leather. Minguillo would
certainly have wanted one; he has a collector’s eye for a rare
object and the irony of a romantic novel, by A Lady, wrapped in part
of one would have appealed to his misogyny and his grim sense of
humour. In his time, death in childbed befell many women, an
unseemly fact quite at odds with the traditional happy ending.
However if he holds women in contempt, he’s not very keen on men
either, a trait he shares with the equally appalling Sor Loreta.
Like Minguillo, Loreta loathes everybody but is less honest about
it. It is not the business of a nun to hate anyone and Loreta prides
herself on how much more pious, righteous and worthy she is than
those around her, even, (especially) her sister nuns. When we first
meet her, she is a horrible little girl, enjoying the spectacle of a
man’s death by torture. She goes from strength to strength in a
career full of spite, jealousy and hysterical fanaticism that is at
times hard to read about. Another character suggests that she has
Sapphic tendencies. However, they couldn’t be more wrong. Her
fixation on the very masculine figures of God and Jesus has an
erotic dimension – in many respects, she recalls personalities such
as St Teresa of Avila
– and she refers to Jesus as her Heavenly Bridegroom. Her devotion
to Him drives her to extremes that are narcissistic,
stomach-churning and far out of keeping with the Christian humility
expected of a nun.
There is a downside to these two horrific creations. While the
narrative fizzes with horrible energy while they are on the page, it
loses something when they are not. They are so appalling that the
other main characters tend to be somewhat flat alongside them, as if
the narrative doesn’t have the room for them to have their flaws as
well. Marcella, Minguillo’s sister, is not the victim he hoped she
was, but she is essentially good, possibly more so than she should
be, given what she has to go through. It’s very hard to imagine
anyone who had to grow up with Minguillo being as virtuous as
Marcella apparently is. Having said that, Michelle Lovric tends to
write the sort of novels where heroes and heroines are somewhat
beside the point. If her villains take centre stage, it might be
that she intends them to, backed up with a cast of interesting
lesser characters – a Puccini-loving prioress, a pornographer-nun
and a grumpy artist who was a central character in an earlier novel.
Both Venice and
emerge as strong settings, full of character, life and seething with
as much corruption as Lovric’s readers would expect. In both places,
status, wealth and power mean everything, even as the two societies
are in the process of huge change.
was central to the Enlightenment and was also a flashpoint of the
Napoleonic Wars. It was part of the Austrian Empire for the period
covered by the novel and up till 1866, when it became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
In the meantime,
was in the process of shaking off European rule, as its Spanish
settlers became Spanish Peruvians. In both cases, hanging onto
established norms and privileges was part of the process and also an
impediment to change. The changes they were going through are
reflected in the characters – that of Minguillo, full of
aristocratic ego and entitlement, of Santo, part of the emerging
professional classes and of the women, especially Marcella and
Loreta, seeking to define themselves as individuals in their own
right. Lovric reflects all that, with varying levels of success, but
ultimately, offers the reader a memorable, gripping, if not always
Vulpes Libris, September 2011
'I picked up this book because it’s called The Book of
I’ve got a huge soft spot for Lovecraftian horror. The whole
idea of horror coming from being confronted with the truth
really appeals to me. I can’t think of anything more terrifying
than being confronted with a reality which is not only utterly
alien, but completely hostile.
So, when I saw the title, I immediately thought, "Ooh, I
wonder if that’s got something to do with the Necronomicon" I
picked it up, and no. It didn’t. Then I read the blurb and got
even more excited.
I’ve got a thing for gothic. I don’t mind the kind of gothic
I had a thing for when I was fifteen, when I subsisted on angst,
baggy jeans and eyeliner. I mean nuns, mysterious men, blood
feuds, horrible secrets and all that jazz. A brother trying to
ruin his sister, by crippling her, sending her to an asylum and
finally making her a nun? That is so up my alley that I’m almost
tempted to make a rude joke that isn’t even remotely funny.
And really, this book delivered. It was a bit rough getting
into it at first, I have to admit. The story is told through a
number of different narratives: Minguillo, his sister Marcella,
her friend and servant Gianni, Dr Santo, and Sor Loreta, the
batshit crazy nun. Some narratives are more engaging than
others. Marcella was a bit dull as a character, but the crap
she’s put through by her entertainingly horrible brother keep
her narratives going. Minguillo was engrossing, although a bit
too obnoxious at times. Sor Loreta was fantastic - I would quite
happily read a whole book of her insanity. Gianni was fantastic
too, one of the warmest characters I’ve read in a while. Dr
Santo was only amusing when he went on about Napoleon.
For all the awfulness in this book (and it’s fantastic
awfulness, just to be clear), there is also a lot of twee fluff.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I like twee. I’m twee as fuck, myself.
But some of the tweeness was a bit much for me. Marcella was a
bit too nice to really grab my attention, and Santo was a bit
too insipid for me to be really interested in him. I understand
that with such amazing supporting characters, it’s hard for a
couple in love to take centre stage AND be every bit as "holy
shit? Really? Awesome!" as the rest, as the book would get a bit
too cluttered with madness and awesomeness. It would probably
also detract from the amazing cast of supporting characters.
It’s not until I was thinking of the book as a whole that I
realized this, though. Sure, the protagonist and her love
interested were a bit too dull and tragic and "woe is me" for my
liking, but I didn’t notice while I was reading. The story is
fantastically gothic, with all the trimmings and trappings that
I was hoping for. Although Minguillo cheerfully progresses from
disturbed child to a truly disturbing psychopathic entrepreneur,
there are some really horrific moments. I first typed out
"horrific scenes", but that isn’t entirely true. Harrowing
things happen, but they’re all the more haunting for not being
played out in front of the reader’s eyes.
On the whole, I really enjoyed this book. It was decadent and
funny and engaging, using some of my favourite gothic tropes to
create an interesting and engaging narrative. I would have
enjoyed a stronger female protagonist, but alas - I can’t think
of many of those in "authentic" gothic novels either, and the
presence of other fantastic female characters does make up for
that. I’m definitely glad I picked it up, even if the titular
book of human skin didn’t have anything to do with shoggoths.' 'Scrapegoat',
Tumblr, October 2, 2011
'I say: I can’t
even know where or how to begin to describe how much I loved
this because it came in so many layers. So I’m going to try
to split it up and we’ll see how it goes.
First of all this consists of five
characters telling their own version of the same tale in the
form of diary entries, if you will – all with a different
Minguillo Fasan: the evil
brother, who was constantly addressing the audience, which I
liked for the most part (some of it was a bit over the top,
but then again, he was some kind of crazy). I liked reading
his parts simply because it was chilling to see how far down
the path of crazy he descended. Just when I thought that he
would let things be, he went to stir up more and more
trouble. His font was extremely small and quite the strain
on my eyes, but we managed.
Marcella Fasan: Minguillo’s
sister; the good and innocent one; constantly suffering for
the sake of others. I really liked her, and it was
disturbing to follow her thought process at times because
she was such a martyr.
Gianni delle Boccole: a servant in
the Fasan home, whose parts were written in vernacular
(which I hate) and it took me a while to understand some of
the words. He was the archetypal big, strong, and kind oaf
sort of person, who did play an integral part in the plot,
and I liked him, he was just not that exciting.
Doctor Santo Aldobrandini:
his parts were somewhat repugnant at times when he went into
great detail about skin diseases (his biggest interest) and
his accounts of what he did as a doctor while on the battle
field. He also went into medical detail about Napoleon’s
various maladies, which was far more information than I ever
wanted to know.
Sor Loreta: the crazy nun, who
went on and on about how good she was and what sinners
everyone else were; completely obsessed with martyrdom, and
various canonized nuns, she made my skin crawl. The way that
she spoke of seeing angels, hearing voices and the lengths
she went to prove her love of god were downright disturbing.
I’m not sure that I can claim to love the
way Lovric writes since it was five different styles, but my
word is she talented. The way she weaved all these lives
together is ridiculously impressive; especially since it
took a while before they all came together in a poetically
just end. I must also mention that I’m not sure why, but
there’s something about adding real characters into a work
of fiction that somehow enhances the reading experience for
me. Like knowing that there are nuns that really do
disfigure themselves like Sor Loreta; that the saints
mentioned were real; and also the integration of Tupac Amary
II in the plot.
At one point in the novel
Minguillo comes across a copy of a book that is said to have
been bound in the skin of Tupac Amaru II, and he later
becomes obsessed with finding more of its kind.
Needless to say, I was hooked all the way
through reading this, and even “had to” read while
I was volunteering at the indie cinema, completely ignoring
To sum up this almost ludicrously
long review, I loved this. The only reason it gets 4.5
instead of the full 5 is because of the vernacular in
Gianni’s part, the sometimes annoyingly over familiar way
Minguillo addressed the audience (his tiny font) and some
ridiculous things that happened near the end of the novel.'
Kill Me If I Stop blog, October 4, 2011
'I have just finished reading The Book of Human Skin,
by Michelle Lovric, and seriously, I WANT YOU ALL TO READ
THIS BOOK. It's the story of a deranged Venetian nobleman
who systematically tortures his little sister, and along the
way collects books bound in human skin. No, stay with me!
It's told from the point of view of the man, his sister, a
household servant, their doctor, and a man Peruvian nun, and
it's strangely and hilariously engaging. It is way funnier
than a book with that premise has any right to be, and I
can't even describe it. The book just gleams,
somehow - it's absolutely gripping, but well written, funny,
and delightfully clever. It's like a fairy tale and an
adventure story had a baby, raised it totally on historical
fiction, then dressed it in satin and silk and fed it wine
and good Italian coffee. I just really, really want everyone
to read this book! I cheered, and laughed, and I almost
ripped one of the pages, even though it was a library book.
Seriously, read it. You will not be sorry.' 'The Lady of
Snarkfest, October 2, 2011
'Featuring some of the most deeply unpleasantly vicious
characters ever to grace a page; the story does not shy away
from describing some truly horrifying acts. In a few places,
I rolled my eyes, disgusted at how OTT it was...then looked
the particulars up and found out that these things used to
The more foul/sexist/derogatory
or inhumane the act; the more likely that it was in fact
historically accurate - somewhat like the Handmaid's tale by
Margaret Atwood – where every indignity suffered by the
protagonist had actually occurred in our history.
I quite enjoyed reading the
different narrative threads, though if I’m totally honest
with you, it took some time to get into. The book opens with
the voices of Sor Loreta and Minguillo dominant. Their
twisted world vision provides interesting perspectives
though I personally preferred it when those of kinder intent
started to take over the narration. For one thing; without
the constant glorification of self; the story began to flow
a lot more smoothly. For another; you feel like you're
seeing a much more honest view of the world.
I think that Sor Loreta was my
favourite character. Never before have I read a character
that so deeply winded me up and thrilled me simultaneously.
Her self-belief, arrogance and fanaticism, coupled with her
distaste for all around her comes across clearly from the
get go. Within seconds of starting her narrative; you forget
all about relating to her and just enjoy trying to depict
the world described without her deep-rooted hatred tingeing
everything. Throughout the book every time I saw the font
that indicated her particular thought patterns (really nice
little structural touch there) I had this dirty little
thrill of delight. It is endlessly fascinating to me that
she was able to get away with so much for so long. It makes
sense though – given the financial arrangement behind her
cloistering – is that a word? I suppose if you pay for your
insane daughter to be housed somewhere; you expect her to be
let to her own devices as much as possible. You certainly
don’t expect her to be up on charges or anything. Sor Loreta
is, without doubt, an evil vicious cow. And I loved her for
The author clearly loves Venice and has researched
the time frame backwards and forwards. I wasn’t three
chapters in before I was just DYING to go for a visit. If
she ain’t on the tourist board…she should be!!
A fantastic, disgusting and
though provoking read. One that still manages to thrill and
delight; even while you’re hiding behind the sofa or feel
too disgusted to read on!
I haven't read any of Michelle Lovric before, but I will
definitely be seeking out more of her work in the future.’
'Skipping first-person points of view
is notoriously hard to do without confusing the reader but
Michelle Lovric pulls it off brilliantly - I never one had
to check back because I doubled whose words I was reading.
The five voices are very distinct, and distinguished by
fairly unobtrusive changing typefaces: their wildly varying
stories weave together neatly for the ending.' Gillian
An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, February 2012
'"This is going to be a little
uncomfortable." Thus begins Michelle
Lovric’s The Book of Human Skin… and she isn’t kidding. The narrative
unfolds in five voices. The first voice being that of
Minguillo the 18th century son of a wealthy merchant who
divides his time between Venice and Peru … If you liked
Perfume or any other well written historical fiction,
you will be carried away by the characters in The Book
ofHuman Skin. The literary style allows the
characters to tell their stories each in their own unique
way and creates almost a verbal dance where the stories
weave and interconnect ending as they all come together at
the conclusion. Like Shakespeare, Lovric “cleans it up
nicely” at the end.’
King’s Sentinel, December 2012
The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric is a wonderful slice of
fiction. Set in Venice, surrounding the inhabitants of the
glorious Palazzo Espagnol, the book focuses on the Fasan
family. There is the devilishly dark Minguillo and his
cherubic sister Marcella who threatens Minguillo and his
right to his own inheritance after the passing of his
father. Minguillo then makes it his personal mission to
destroy his sister whilst seriously underestimated he
goodness and how much she is loved by those around her. With
multiple narrators and , this may not be what you'd consider
'light' holiday reading. Lovric appears to have done a good
deal of research on various prevalent topics and themes
within the novel which makes for an interesting read. If
you're a fan of any Gothic Literature, the works and writing
of Anne Rice or shows like Hannibal, Game of Thrones or The
Borgias on HBO etc I would recommend this book for you. This
dazzlingly dark novel will certainly prove an interesting
reads as it turns one of the most beautiful cities in Europe
into a much more grim place. The story is shocking and
amusing in all the right measures. Don't read this book if
you have a queasy/weak stomach.
Welcome to the Birdcage, July 25th, 2013
I adore Michelle Lovric's writing style which is magical, flamboyant and entirely assured. Her YA novels are also a delight - if only we'd had them when I was a child! However The Book of Human Skin is decidedly not a children's read. It is fiercely dark and subversive, though not without great humour.
The central story is that of a Marcella, a young girl who is locked away in a convent when her brother, Minguillo (mesmerising and charismatic, but horribly evil too) begins his narration with the words 'This is going to be a little uncomfortable'. Indeed it is! And Marcella's suffering at his hands is narrated from the extravagant viewpoint of no less than five individuals who (apart from creating a sense of awe that any writer could pull that off) knit together a complex scheme of events that lead to a thrilling conclusion.
I particularly enjoyed this novel because the quite sinister convent scenes are set in Santa Catalina, in the Peruvian city of Arequipa, a convent which I have also toured, and found it to be an inspiring place with a melancholy, haunting air. I always thought I would like to set a novel of my own in that place. But having read Michelle's Lovric's work I couldn't even begin to compete. Delightful, horrific and riotous. A truly entertaining read.
(And while we are on the subject, should you enjoy this novel, Michelle Lovric's The Remedy is another based upon the convent theme.)
Review by Essie Fox, DO YOU DO THE WRITE THING? blog, April 1st 2014.
Essie’s atmospheric and lush Victorian novels, The Somnabulist, Elijah’s Mermaid and The Goddess and the Thief are published by Orion. She blogs as The Virtual Victorian, and her clever website is here.
Transported me in time and space to an unfamiliar world where brothers are very very mean to sisters. In this patriarchal place, the female protagonist has to do her utmost to survive her brother’s bizarre tastes. This book is kind of like a Cronenberg flick….you hate to read the gruesome details, and you just can’t put it down.
There’s an interesting review of The Book of Human Skin by Josie Jaffrey at The Gin Book Club:
I knew I was going to love this book the moment I saw it.
Joanne Harris says on the cover: "I don't think I have enjoyed anything as much since Perfume", and it’s an apt comparison. I loved Perfume: the tangible world, the focus on sensation and the twisted empathy that was created by Suskind for his anti‐hero. The Book of Human Skin has the former in common with Suskind’s novel, but not the latter two. It does, however, share something of Perfume's darkness.
The story is centred around Marcella, and is narrated in short chapters from the perspective of various characters (Marcella, Minguillo, a servant, a doctor and a nun) who feature heavily in the story. This technique had the potential to alienate and disorientate readers, but I was hooked from the very first page. Lovric’s writing is so accomplished, the deft character notes so compelling, that I resented having to put it down at bedtime.
There are moments of horror, but not the ones that I was expecting from the title. Instead, the narrative is filled with tension, desperation, and later a sense of impotence and frustration as Minguillo unleashes various subtle tortures upon his sister. And subtlety is the key here: Lovric doesn’t hammer us over the head with gory or gruesome plot devices. Instead, she focusses on the psychological to great effect.
100 Essential Books ‐ The Book Of Human Skin ‐ Michelle Lovric (Bloomsbury 2010) Review by Phil Shanklin in https://reviewsrevues.com/.
The latest edition of newbooks magazine (Nb86 Autumn 2015) has just come out and is available to purchase by following this link. It is the fifteenth anniversary issue and contains interviews with amongst others Sophie Hannah and Patrick Ness. There are a number of my reviews in the Directory section together with the third and last of my contributions for the best books of the 21st Century. (Previous editions have featured my championing of "The Book Thief" and "The Crimson Petal And The White"). As a little taster for the magazine here is my review of "The Book Of Human Skin", my final candidate for the Ultimate 21st Century read.
At the centre of this audacious novel is Minguillo Fasan, one of the most malevolent characters in literary fiction. He is without any redeeming features. He manipulates, plots and seeks to destroy others and yet, he is strangely attractive to us readers. He knows this. From the start he points out the question we should ask ourselves as readers is "Do I wish to go on a long walk in the dark with this person?" We all know the answer. Towards the end he taunts us, "Tell me that you did not love what I wrote". I absolutely did. Minguillo is a villain with a catchphrase, "This is going to be a little uncomfortable" and he’s not wrong, but it’s a gleeful discomfort. There is much pleasure to be had amongst the pain.
Fasan is one of five narrators in the book who take turns to tell their tale; Marcella, his beleaguered sister has the unfortunate role of heroine and has to endure much because of this. Gianni, the valet, adds much humour with his phonetic account, which will have you seeing familiar words in a completely different light. Sister Loreta is a fanatic nun in a Peruvian monastery, who can give Minguillo a run for his money with her machinations. Last of all is Doctor Santo with an interest in skin conditions and Marcella.
Set in Venice and Peru in the early years of the nineteenth century, this is a book about revenge and the lengths gone to ensure an inheritance. It is also, as implied by the title, a book about skin. Minguillo collects books covered in it, "anthropodermic bibliopegy" and sells "The Tears Of Santa Rosa" to improve the quality of Venetian ladies’ skin (they believe it is made from nuns sobbings rather than lead). He is a man with "flocculent skin" who, he tells us, has "lived his skin to the limit." Others have their skin disfigured by their own actions or by the actions of others. The Doctor seeks to cure skin complaints and in the background there is Napoleon, a man driven by his itchiness and other symptoms of his dermatological problems.
This book is delightfully gruesome, outrageous, very funny and heart‐rending. The incorporation of history into the narrative is achieved seamlessly. It’s dark, edgy and cruel but the reader is driven on by the hope that the author will not leave us floundering in the dark for too long. There’s an escape sequence which has me on the edge of my seat every time I read it. The research is superb. In a detailed Historical Notes section at the back of the book Lovric separates facts from fiction for us. I was quite relieved there was so much factual basis and it wasn’t all the imagination of Michelle Lovric. I was getting anxious that one day I might meet her in a dark alley! This is an excellent book.
The Book Of Human Skin was published by Bloomsbury in 2010
As a postcript to this review ‐ there’s been quite a bit of human skin on this blog recently. William Burke, one half of Burke and Hare, whose partner in crime is the subject of my recent blog post "Seeking Mr Hare" was reputed to have ended up with his skin as a book cover!
Book Review: "The Book of Human Skin" by Michelle Lovric
Adele Cosgrove-Bray is a writer, poet and artist who lives on the Wirral Peninsula in England.
5 stars for The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric
What's It About?
Born in 1784, Minguillo Fasan is a vile child. Everyone dislikes him, even his own parents. By the age of twelve he has developed a cruel, sadistic temperament which defies any attempt to curb it.
Then a sister is born. Beautiful, kind and gentle, Marcella is everything which Minguillo is not. She is loved by all, including the household servants who become deeply loyal to her cause, especially after her brother deliberately cripples her leg.
Minguillo finds his father's legal Will, and he learns the family's luxurious Venetian villa is to be inherited by Marcella instead of himself. Furious, he schemes to have her removed from obstructing his ambitions.
Meanwhile, their father spends most of his time on the other side of the world,in Arequipa, Peru. He is there to oversee the family's silver mines, which are the source of their wealth. But he also has another life there which his Venetian family knows nothing of.
Minguillo also knows nothing of the blossoming romance between Marcella and a young doctor, Santo Aldobrandini.
And none of them yet know how the masochistic fanaticism of one Peruvian nun have such a huge impact on all their lives.
Author Michelle Lovric Talks About Her Novel, Plus a Book Club Review
What's to Like?
This is a fascinating book, told through several characters. Each has a distinct voice and their own interpretation of unfolding events, their own loyalties and aims. Think of separate personal diaries cut and pasted to create a cohesive whole, each contributor having their own handwriting‐or typeset font in this case. One character, Gianni delle Boccole, is a servant in the Fasan household and is only semi‐literate; the reader is treated to his misuse of words and erratic spelling skills.
And what a twisting tale The Book of Human Skin truly is. There's nothing remotely obvious about the story's finale. It kept me turning pages, wanting to know what happened next.
The locations are described adequately without overdoing it, so the reader gets a strong impression of place without being swamped with detail. In the book's acknowledgements section, we're told the author was able to carry out research in Venice and Peru with the help of an Arts Council grant.
Although this is a violent story, the author skillfully avoids gratuitous detail, choosing instead to tease the reader. Leaving details to the imagination is often a more powerful tool than a blow‐by‐blow account anyway. It's like in horror films when you see the monster and immediately recognise that it's just some actor in makeup, or you watch a computer‐generated image which is limited by the technology available at the time it was made. Leave things to play through the human imagination, and anything can happen.
However, this is also a love story‐a story of unfading loyalty and determination. It is not without its humorous moments, either.
What's Not to Like?
The start of this book requires a bit of effort on the reader's part, as the cast of characters are encountered for the first time. The author clearly knows this and even teases the reader about it through Minguillo.
It is easy to differentiate between the various characters, though, as each section is headed by their name and each has its own distinct font.
After this initial hurdle, I quickly became engaged by this fascinating story, which is one of the most entertaining novels I've read in a long while‐and I read, on average, about 45‐50 novels a year.
UK - Orion
Delacorte Press Germany - Loewe Verlag
Italy - Salani
Portugal – Saida
Poland - Jaguar
Taiwan – Sharp Point Press
Poland - Jaguar
June 1st, 1899
Teo is browsing in an old-fashioned Venetian bookshop when a small, heavy book falls on her head. When the book greets her by name, Teo, an adventurous orphan, soon finds out that she is more than a tourist in the mysterious city. An ancient enemy is stirring and it seems that Teo has been chosen to save Venice from his violent hatred. This is a historical novel of headless butchers, vicious seagulls, sharks, mermaids and curry.
'A stunning debut novel … Part fairy tale, part historical fiction, this is writing that is alight and alive. Two worlds are held in balance, Venice on the cusp of change, as science exerts an even stronger stranglehold against a deeper, underwater world of myth and mermaids. A beautifully told allegory that captures the power of language, this has definite crossover appeal.' Jake Hope, Booksellers' Choice, Bookseller
'What an amazing sense of place the writer establishes - Venice is really the central character! The cast of characters too is fresh and quite extraordinary - how I loved those mermaids and their way of life. I didn't put it down as the story sweeps on with such speed and wonder that there's no place to stop.' Wendy Cooling, children's book consultant
'Atmospheric, beautifully written and about Venice - A superb volume of adventure encompassing all that makes a good solid read. Includes ghosts, retribution, death, mermaids, seahorses, bravery - absolutely brilliant. Read it in Venice if you can, if not, then read it and visit as soon as you can ...This is a must read book.' Sue Chambers, Waterstones, Harrods
'This sumptuous Venetian adventure is the first novel for children by Lovric, author of
Carnevale. It's a Potter-esque 424 pages … but a great romp for more literary readers.' Fiona Noble, Children's Previews, Bookseller
'An amazing urban fantasy for children.' LibraryThing website
'The adventure does more rollicking than I could shake a stick at … And then there are the fantastical characters. These are simply sublime - from the three types of ghost, to the Grey Lady who can transform into a cat, to the big bad villain himself, the traitor Bajamonte Tiepolo. They're all three-dimensional and they all fit perfectly into their surroundings, born from real Venetian inspiration. And then there are the mermaids, who are absolute triumphs and utterly hilarious. With speech influenced by sailors, they are as salty-tongued as they come - ''What a drivelswigger! Drags on like a sea-cow's saliva!'', run underground and subversive printing presses, and have a love for spicy food. Seaweed-cocoa with cayenne pepper, anyone? How about curried lagoon samphire? It is one for the committed reader, but this committed reader thought it was absolutely marvellous.' Jill Murphy at The Bookbag website
'I think that it'll turn out to be easily the best Venice-set novel of the year … This is as spooky as you'd expect from a supernatural tale for young adults/older children, but with charm and humour too. If I'd read this book as a child I think that my passion for Venice would've come that much quicker. Citing the names of Potter and Pullman is not inappropriate, but not as a marketing ploy so much as an appreciation of the rare skill for combining magic and humanity so that the reader is left with his collies wobbled and his heart warmed.'
'A captivating magical fantasy in a secret watery underworld, The Undrowned Child tells how eleven-year-old Teodora is swept into the storybook world of invisible children whose task is to save the dying city of Venice. Working alongside the mermaids, Teodora's task is immense. Together can they save the city before the water destroys it? With lyrical writing and an unputdownable plot this is something very special.' Julia Eccleshare, LoveReading4Kids
'Perhaps only a three-hour epic could gather the complexity and colour of
The Undrowned Child. But following Teodora through the twilight of headless butchers, ghosts, torture, murder and a thrilling chase would be amazing. If the film rights are not yet sold, I'd put in an offer … The Undrowned Child has a marvellous story and is bound with a love of Venice. But what really distinguishes it from what could have been an author's vain attempt to write about Venice is the colourful language and detail. The mermaids have learnt English from pirates and like curry, the nuns see ghosts, the evil takes revenge on the bakers souring their pastries while poisoning tourists with mint ice-cream - no doubt a dig at the poor quality gelato served in St Mark's Square compared to the good stuff hidden in the back streets. There are also a few sly digs at the Biennale art festival and Venetians' open snobbishness to any foreigner, Italians included.
'Although aimed at a ''young adult'' audience - meaning children over ten - it seems certain the depth of the storyline will lead it on Harry Potter's successful quest into the adult market.'Daniel Barnes,
KIDS BOOK READ IN 2010: The Undrowned Child, by Michelle
Lovric & Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O Dell
'The Undrowned Child is a real story-tellers story, full of
fabulous, crazy characters; original ideas; sly, knowing humour and
a love of language and books. An absolute delight.'
Book Grotto Blogspot.
has been used as a stage for many books before, but this time the
City of Water is the perfect
background for a very original story which involves a parallel
world, mermaids, ghosts, speaking statues and many more “out of this
world” characters …Whilst
unveiling the story, the writer manages to give the reader a
particular insight into Venice. Even though it is set more than one
hundred years ago, the dangers and problems threatening the city are
so current and they are brought so close to the present that you
feel you are there living the story with Teo and Renzo. And whilst
reading you are walking though the campi, the calli,
the canals of
and you feel like you are there. Or at least that’s how I felt. If you are thinking of going to Venice with your children
and want them to know about the City of Water before they get
there, this is the perfect book for them. It will entice them, they
will want to go and find each single one of the places mentioned in
the story. And with a little map
at the beginning of the book pinpointing the most important sites of
which the books talks about, this fantasy treasure hunt could not be
I really enjoyed reading this book, even if it was a children
book. Michelle Lovric
has managed to bring out of Venice not only the magic that always
surrounds this city and that sense of mystery which always emerges
from it, but also those day to day aspects of Venetian life,
which many times tourists and visitors ignore or forget about. The book is followed by a sequel which
goes by the title of The
Mourning Emporium: I will post about it pretty soon. Michelle
Lovric has written many other books about Venice: her love for this
city transpire in each word she writes.’
Monica Cesarato, inher
'This book is set in the brilliant, mysterious world of Venice in
1899. Ghosts walk the streets, winged lions move and handbills from
the statue of Signor Rioba fill the streets. The prologue sent a
shiver down my spine: a beginning to make you want to read on ...
I like the way the author uses things from history that are real;
I found the way the magical book shows Teo around Venice very
interesting. This story, of Teo and Renzo – a Venetian boy - trying to save
Venice from a traitor of the past, will scare you and make you
smile. I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes magical
stories set in historical places.'
Guardian online,May 2011
'Il grimorio di Veneziaè un romanzo
tra fantasy, horror e storia, rivolto ad un pubblico di ragazzi, ma
interessante anche per gli adulti, se non altro per chi, come
l'autrice, è sedotto dal fascino senza tempo e decadente di Venezia
e dalla sua storia, qui un po' reinventata, ma, come spiega anche
Michelle Lovric, basata su fatti veri, anche sgradevoli, come il
periodo della schiavitù, che qui torna come lato oscuro con
l'attacco di Bajamonte Tiepolo. Una storia che avvince senza
stancare, alternativa riuscita a quelli che ormai sono stereotipi
della letteratura per ragazzi, parlando di magia ma senza copiare i
successi degli ultimi anni (niente scuole di stregoneria e il
cattivo non è il mago più malvagio di tutti i tempi) ma costruendo
intorno un intreccio che mescola suggestioni già sentite ma che
riesce ad essere originale, appassionante e divertente, oltre che un
commosso ed appassionato omaggio ad una città eterna e fragile,
bella e inquietante come Venezia. In attesa che la Salani o altre case editrici
propongano gli altri romanzi di Michelle Lovric, tra cui un altro
per ragazzi, The mourning emporium, storia a se stante
rispetto a Il grimorio di Venezia, e i titoli per adulti, è
senz'altro piacevole scoprire una nuova penna, che propone un
fantasy divertente e fuori dagli schemi, omaggiando un luogo magico
di casa nostra e creando un'eroina che riprende personaggi come
Pippi Calzelunghe, piccole donne intraprendenti non in attesa del
bel vampiro di turno pronte a prendere in mano l'avventura, per
salvare Venezia da una minaccia che già tentò di ucciderla da
Sul Romanzo website, May 2011
'In the year 1899, the evil spirit of Venice's
ancient enemy, Bajamonte Tiepolo, whose bones are buried deep in the
Grand Canal, rises to seek revenge on the city that destroyed him
centuries earlier. The mayor offers rational explanations for
swelling tides of hot water, encroaching sharks, ghostly bells, and
eerie lights, while insisting that children who die from plague be
buried secretly at night. A magical book takes 11-year-old Teodora
"between-the-Linings", making her visible only to children, ghosts,
and animals. The book also introduces Teo to Renzo, a scholarly boy
her age, and Lussa, mermaid queen and keeper of the "Seldom Seen
Press", whose bawdy handbills warn Venetians of danger ("Have ye all
been beaten with the stupid stick, like your mayor..."). Racing
against time, tide, and "baddened magic", Teo and Renzo recruit
forces to battle the enemy. Energetic pacing, delightful fantasy,
historical drama, lively humor, and a palpable love for Venice
pervade the first YA novel from Lovric (who has written several
adult novels set in that city). Addressing themes of honor,
friendship, redemption, and belonging, it's an engrossing page-turne
Publishers Weekly, July 2011
'Teodora, a bookish girl with a complex destiny, joins with
Renzo, a Venetian boy, to battle the city’s impending
In 1899, Teo and her adoptive, scientist parents travel from
Naples to Venice for a conference focused on the city’s
shockingly dire problems. Rapidly heating water has brought
sharks to the lagoon; wells are bursting, and children are dying
of a hushed-up plague. Teo has always felt powerfully drawn to
Venice. When a mysterious tome, The Key to the Secret City,
clocks her in a bookshop, she enters a parallel Venice, “between
the linings.” There, the evil exile Bajamonte Tiepolo is
rematerializing, assembling a blood-lusting army of mutilated
soldiers to avenge the city that destroyed them. With the Key their
helpfully morphing guidebook, Teo and Renzo assist a community
of protective mermaids and “The Gray Lady,” a
librarian-turned–spell-tattooed cat, racing against Tiepolo’s
dark triumph. Thickly plotted and encrusted with historical
characters and fantastic elements (invisibility, an almanac of
spells, transmogrifying statuary), Venetian transplant Lovric’s
first effort for children is one grisly, bristling ride. A map,
historical notes and a section entitled “What is true, and
what’s made up?” shed light on the complicated allegory, but
fantasy-devouring kids might well prefer the fast-paced horror
to the historicity.
A teeming, action-packed fantasy liberally laced with
Venetian history, for strong readers of both sexes; a sequel
awaits.' Kirkus Reviews, July 2011
historical fiction blend meticulously in this richly imaginative
novel. Set in 1899, it’s an intricately woven tale about rescuing
from impending demise. Teodora Gasperin, 11, miraculously survived a
drowning accident that left her an orphan. She was adopted by two
scientists who are attending a conference in
to find a way to save the city from sinking into the sea. While
there, Teo is accidentally hit on the head by an extraordinary book,
The Key to the Secret City for the Children
of Venice, when it topples from a bookstore shelf, thus
beginning her adventures. The book speaks to her, leading her on a
quest to rescue the city from evil Bajamonte Tiepolo. After the
accident, Teo is visible only to children, and she has extraordinary
powers. As she tries to unlock the mystery to save the city, she
deals with clever mermaids, some of whom add humor to the adventure.
After a bumpy start, Renzo, a chauvinistic young Venetian, becomes
her good friend and joins in her search. Lovric has included
intriguing twists and turns on almost every page, with vampire eels
and villains galore. Teo is a wonderful but unassuming heroine, and Venice itself is a
thrilling character. The combination of imagination, thorough
research, and evocative prose renders this an exceptional read that
will not relinquish readers from its grasp. Happily, a sequel is
already planned. This is Lovric’s first contribution to literature
for the young, and it is a gem.
Renee Steinberg, School
Library Journal, August 2011
'I have to start off
mentioning how totally awesome Teo's paranormal power is in this
book. Being able to see speech written in script above the speaker's
head is the best power EVER. It made me wonder what font my voice
would be? It was a totally cool idea. I am also a long time fan of
Michelle Lovric. She writes beautiful books about
Venice, yes, but she also tends to writes
stories that involve powerful books. Books about books. And
mermaids. Seriously, does it get any better than this? The mermaids
in this story were so awesome. Their dialect was funny and smart and
entirely unique. And that's another thing that keeps me coming back
to Lovric's books. Her writing style is gorgeous. She can create
atmosphere with ease and every single word on the page seems to
serve a very specific purpose in her dialog and description.
'Rich prose and colorful characters abound as Teo and Renzo race
to find a spell book and turn it against the ghost, who will
stop at nothing to destroy Venice. Lovric's characters are
richly imagined, and though some are gruesome, like the ghost
"in-the-Slaughterhouse," Butcher Biaso (who devours children),
they aren't as terrifying as comical. The Undrowned Child
reads like a classic -- a beautiful novel that immerses readers
in the romance of Venice and the prophesy with which Teo and
Renzo are bound. This was an incredible adventure, certainly one
of the best I've read this year.'
Where the Best Books Are blog, October 22, 2011
year old Theodora is visiting Venice with her parents and snobby
cousin Maria when a very old book falls on her head and gives
her a concussion. So begins a battle between the evil
Bajamonte Tiepolo and his minions out to take over and destroy
Venice in 1899 and the mermaids (who learned to speak from
listening to sailors!) , their allies the cats, sea creatures
and a variety of ghosts as well as those adults who have been
given the task of protecting a book of spells. Michelle
Lovric dishes out in gruesome detail how Tiepolo and his gang-
the headless butcher and others, have come to wreak havoc upon
the Venetians and in particular, Teo and her friend Lorenzo.
Lussa, the queen of the mermaids, and her mermaid army is
printing handbills in old English/sailor speak to warn the
Venetians to no avail and it is up to Teo and Renzo with the
help of the talking book to risk their lives to keep
Venice safe and to rescue Maria from the evil clutches of
Bajamonte Tiepolo. Teo can see word bubbles above people's
heads and can read people's hearts by touching their chest.
If you loved Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord then you will
devour The Undrowned Child. A bit creepy and some parts
will scare the living daylights out of younger readers but the
history of Venice with all its quirks will enchant readers both
children and adults. This is the Percy Jackson of Italy!'
B&N Community, October 14, 2011
'Lovric seamlessly blends historic Venice with a realm where
mermaids, ghosts and winged lions roam freely. Readers will
constantly find themselves learning new facts about the famous
Italian city as Teo and Renzo uncover a dark mystery sealed deep
within its archives. The encounters with Venice’s more
otherworldly citizens are described with great attention to
detail, and younger readers may find certain aspects of the
story frightening. But no matter how bleak the situation
becomes, a genuine sense of humor in the narration provides a
glimmer of hope for its protagonists. For anyone interested in
learning about Venice’s fascinating history or reading a
whimsical, well-developed fantasy, The Undrowned Child
will certainly satisfy.' Loree Varella,
ALAN Online, September 2011
'The Undrowned Child by
Michelle Lovric is a dark, magical book set in an alternate
Venice. This historical fiction read is full of sinister themes,
characters and occurences, which make it all the more gripping
... This book is my new personal favourite, quickly taking the
number one spot on my list of top books. A really good read for
any fan of historical fiction/fantasy. I think this book would
appeal to fans of Ingo (by Helen Dunmore) and the
Dragonkeeper series.' Isabelle K,
a Dog, October 13, 2011
I have one word come to
mind when thinking of how to describe
The Undrowned Child and that is delightful. Even when you give enough thought
to what’s happening around the main characters, rather than
skimming over the surface, and you discover how dark the deeper
subjects can be I still found it delightful. Delightful,
delightful, delightful. Unfortunately I
don’t believe I’ll get this delightfullness out of my system for
this review so prepared to be bombarded with the word … I think
Lovric has done a superb job of including a multitude of
messages in her story, messages of forgiveness, acceptance, the
benefits of knowledge and history, listening to others, giving
people a chance, and much more delivered in a (yes, you guessed
it) delightful, colourful, and imaginative hybrid of alternative
historical ficiton with fantasy. I feel this is definitely one
both adults and a younger audience can enjoy, and I know I’m
keeping my copy for any young ones in my family to enjoy as
Bookish Ardour, June 26, 2012
'The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric is one for girls with a taste for water and curry with a kick. (Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to be someone who likes to eat their dinner in the bath- that wouldn’t be weird at all…)Â
It’s 1899, it’s Venice and Teo is an eleven year old with a party trick of reading upside down. (Now that’s skill!) Hit on the head with a book dedicated to studying mermaids- isn’t it annoying when you can’t read some books just because they don’t exist?- Teo is given The Key to the Secret City- a book- yes, another!- that leads her into an inbetween world where mermaids talk like sailors- there is no swearing to be had from these lucious ladies- and a time old story of the imfamous Bajamonte Tiepolo who failed to take over Venice due to getting hit on the head with a baking utensil. (Of all the luck.) With a little help fromÂ Renzo, a Venetian boy with very good taste in clothing- (and a straight one at that)- Teo must help to save Venice before it is drowned by whatever seems to be lurking below the water…
There is also a talking cat. What more could you possibly want in a book?
With a style of writing I can’t possibly liken to anything else I have read, Lovrik has begun a new obsession within me. The Teo Obsession- to be enjoyed with a nice cup of tea. (Or curry.)'
Emmablablema Does Books blogspot, May 2013
A wonderfully surreal and at time subversive romp through a Victorian Venice awash with saucy-tongued mermaids, green poisonous icecream, malevolent seagulls and beetles, lurid pirates, shapeshifting cats and a hideous cannibalistic butcher, who carries his head under his arm in what could be a nod (pun intended) to Washington Irving. Teo is endearingly bookish, her friend Renzo is slight, scholarly and ultimately gallant, whilst the haughty, sometimes flirtatious mermaids are good fun. On a quest to stop the legendary historical traitor Bajamonte Tiepolo (try saying that when you’ve had a few ginger beers), Teo and Renzo hurry down the backstreets of a half-imaginary, half-real Venice, clutching a magical book that helps them at every turn. On the way they encounter mythical apothecaries stocking ‘Venetian Treacle’, plague-ridden children and sinister sculptures. All the while Bajamonte grows in strength, and threatens to have his bloody revenge on Venice once and for all…
All in all, I loved this book, and could hardly put it down! A rollicking, rambunctious read full of the salty tang of a Venice both real and wonderfully imagined. (And the mermaids are delightful.)
Overall rating: Whimsical, wonderful and at times highly inventive, Lovric has proven to me that she’s a writer to watch out for.
Scalding water bursts from ancient marble wells, once peaceful venues flood with dark water, and sharks race through the canals of 19th-century Venice.
Eleven-year-old Teodora finally sets foot in the city of her dreams only to be targeted by enemies of Venice’s past. The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric revolves around Teo’s journey through Venice in 1899 as she uncovers her past and attempts to rescue the city from a bleak future. She goes "between-the-Linings" of the floating city, uncovering an alternate universe in which she discovers the truth behind Venice’s plight. Teodora’s adventures are riddled with captivating elements, from historic settings to "baddened" magic and gruesome villains.
Venice is overflowing with history, and Lovric makes great use of the city’s past to set the story. Many of the locations Teodora explores are real places in Venice today. The beginning scene finds Teo in a charming secondhand bookshop, eagerly browsing the shelves. Lovric reveals that this bookshop was inspired by one she found in the square of Santa Maria Nova. The prophecy given to the readers at the start references a "Bone Orchard," more commonly known as the San Michele Cemetery. The author introduces these places with rich detail. Her use of setting is executed masterfully; she clearly understands Venice’s history.
Though the setting is realistic, the many magical elements in the novel are an important component of the plot. Teodora is submerged in a world of magic – good and bad. Teo herself is gifted with the ability to see a person’s dialogue written above their head, each in a unique font. She discovers more of her capabilities as she uncovers the links between her and Venice.
For a large part of the book, Teo is stuck "between-the-Linings." This is a secret "city" exclusively for Venetians that also protects individuals in times of crises by hiding them from the normal world. The magic in this book adds layers to the beautifully crafted setting and is hidden in unsuspecting, normal places.
Each character of The Undrowned Child contrasts the traits of another. Teodora’s adoptive parents are scientists and do not believe in fate and magic. Meanwhile, Teo is an avid believer, which gives her the ability to see things the adults cannot. Additionally, Teo and her cousin, Maria, clash on multiple occasions. Maria is part of the "fashionable crowd" in Teo’s hometown, Naples, while Teo’s intelligent and reclusive personality ensure that she is often the target of ridicule by this group. The skilled use of juxtaposition along with the diverse cast make the characters unique and believable.
The author’s writing style is one of the most important aspects of any piece of writing. Lovric’s style is eloquent and bursting with detail. In one scene, Teodora visits the statue of Signor Rioba. Lovric details Teo’s perception of the statue, writing, "His motionless body seemed to trap centuries of anger inside it, like a prehistoric fly caught forever in a drop of amber." The author’s eloquence allows for the story to come to life around the reader. Publishers Weekly praised the author’s writing, saying, "Energetic pacing, delightful fantasy, historical drama, lively humor, and a palpable love for Venice pervade the first YA novel from Lovric. Addressing themes of honor, friendship, redemption, and belonging, it’s an engrossing page-turner." Lovric’s writing style gives the book a unique tone, while fluidly transitioning from one scene to the next. The novel would not be as captivating without the author’s unparalleled style.
The noble sights of Venice in The Undrowned Child hide an enthralling world of magic that Teodora is swept into. This novel puts readers in the majestic floating city, battling the enemies of Venice while dealing with the effects of being "between-the-Linings." Make sure not to fall into the canals as you fall in love with this masterpiece.
This sequel to Lovric’s atmospheric
The Undrowned Child moves the action from the murky lagoon of Venice
to the dark, narrow backstreets of Victorian London, where an evil plot
to supplant the Royal succession threatens the country.
the Undrowned Child, and her partner Renzo are charged with saving the
city, inhabited by drugged mermaids, pirates and talking bulldogs. Of
Wildly imaginative and action-packed, Lovric’s books stand out for their authentic historic detail and inventive use of
language. A rambunctious romp for girls and boys who like fun with their
Daily Mail, November 11th, 2010
This is the
second book from the acclaimed debut novelist, who wrote
The Undrowned Child last year. The historical features and elements
are clearly introduced at the beginning of this story. Every page turned
pieces together yet another pictorial aspect of this great city and
creates a lasting impression. In fact the more you read, the more you
want to visit and explore this great wonder of a city. The historical
detail, threaded throughout the story, creates a unique and rich back
drop for the introduction of a number of wonderful and crazy characters
Starting off on a roller-coaster ride of words, the
author has the amazing ability to tell a story with a
poetic voice. Sometimes she invents intriguing new words or accents, in
order to fit the character’s profile, which I really liked and found
interesting. Elements of the story are purely fantastical, with just a
hint of truth to blend the story together …
This is a book to be enjoyed by lovers of great fictional writing. It
has a lot going on from ghosts to talking animals and mermaids to
blood-sucking leeches. Never mind the torture, battles and frolics to be
found on the high sea. The author
has made good use of her personal knowledge of both
Venice to lift
this adventure - infusing it with charm and character that you don't
always find. This should surely tempt you to get your hands on a copy of
'This is a swashbuckling, serious story with a great good vs evil storyline! If you like the His Dark Materials trilogy then you will love this!'
theschoolrun.com, August 11th, 2010
'This time, Teo and Renzo have not one, but two, cities to save. And this sequel to The Undrowned Child sees them travel from Venice to floating orphanage, to pirate ship, to London, where il Traditore
is in league with a minor member of the British royal family … It's as rousing and vivid a book as its predecessor - on the surface is a mix of swashbuckling and humour, but underlying the action is some truly awesome research and a vocabulary-busting turn of phrase.
Once again, the supporting cast adds sparkle after sparkle. I was most glad to reacquaint myself with Venice's curry-loving, salty-tongued mermaids and I shared their disgust in their London counterparts - languid, fussy, uptight melusines they are, addled on Victorian London's various quackeries … Turtledove, a kindhearted, orphan-saving, talking bulldog, was my other favourite. He's as memorable as any Narnian creation.
There are ghosts, talking animals, pirates, orphans, heroes and villains in world ''between the linings'',
but there's also a vivid and utterly accurate historical picture of London and Venice at the time. There's pace and tension, and there's a genuine and robust sense of humour underlying it all.'
thebookbag.co.uk, August 2010
'I was laughing out loud on the tube this morning ... and I am gripped once again by Michelle Lovric's depiction of Venice & evil and am waiting impatiently for my lunch break to return to Venice, Teo, Renzo ... mermaids, cats and the rest ...'
Sue Chambers, of the Harrods in-store bookshop, Waterstones
'The Mourning Emporium is Michelle Lovric's sequel to The Undrowned Child, which was my book of 2009. ... Teo and Renzo are back in The Mourning Emporium and facing not only the return of Tiepolo and his baddened magic, but a change of scene when they are kidnapped aboard barely sea-worthy pirate ship the Scilla and end up in London as Queen Victoria dies. There they find more mermaids, Venetian zookymen, a talking, waistcoat-wearing bulldog called Turtledove and The Mourning Emporium of Tristesse and Ganorus. ... This book is a pleasure and I sincerely recommend it.' Lucy Inglis, Georgian London website
'Beautifully written and skilfully told, this story succeeds on most every level. It will make you laugh, and cry, and flinch. It will leave you entirely satisfied.' Essie Fox, Virtual Victorian blogspot
'Without reading the stories it's hard to convey just how whimsical and wonderful they are. Historically imbued with so many interesting true tidbits, filled with unique and charming characters, and told in the most enjoyably unusual language, these books are like nothing I've ever read before. They are at once the quintessential children's adventure story while being told in such an intelligent way that I can easily see them becoming great classics.
The Mourning Emporium has a great new cast. While holding on to the beloved Venetian Mermaids, Ms Lovric has also added London's own, less rough and tumble, mermaids, as well as a fantastic gang of street children cared for by an english bulldog by the name of Turtledove, not to mention the wonderful cat of the Scilla Sofonisba and her entourage of orphaned Venetian boys. But not to worry! She hasn't neglected to add a new host of evil doers as well. Ms Uish, the Pretender to the British throne, sheep obsessed convicts from Australia and some vampire squids make for some deliciously awful villains for our children to come up against.
Told in such a way to be engrossing for both children and adults alike these books are so packed full of intriguingly true history and wonderful vocabulary I'm guessing virtually every kind of reader also comes away having learned something too. Though you pick it up in such an enjoyable way it hardly seems like you could have learned something, isn't learning supposed to be endlessly boring??' Rhiannon Ryder, Diary of a Bookworm website
'Queen Victoria is dying and, in an Australian penal colony, a Pretender, Harold Hoskins, is planning to seize the British throne with the help of an army of ghost-convicts, vampiric sea-creatures and spying seabirds. In league with him is Bajomonte Tiepolo, the ghost of a mediaeval Venetian traitor who has already brought Venice to its knees by inducing an ice-storm and heavy flooding. Sailing from Venice to save London from the same fate are young Teo and her friend, Renzo, who have certain advantages over most adults, including the ability to talk to animals and see ghosts. This summary provides only a flavour of the immense detail and intricate mythologies contained in this book, the second of a trilogy set in a fantastical alternative to the years around 1900. ... These incidents are supported by ripely eccentric characterisations and humorous dialogue ... Lovric also demonstrates great descriptive verve – the British coast 'opens like a grim grey smile in the water' – and clearly has a precise understanding of the geographies of both Venice and London, potentially encouraging her readers to turn to their maps. The book will appeal to all readers who appreciate adventure, fantasy and humour, although the centrality of Teo, albeit disguised as a boy for much of the time, may particularly attract female readers. Its sharp characterisation and direct dialogue make it accessible for those of 11 upwards.' Ruth Taylor, Books for Keeps website
of humour here (‘cast asparagus’) and some new loveable characters,
mostly animal. Sleeping with squirrels is a new trend for the cold.
Seems they can keep you warm. White rats. Ew. Fat weasels. The whole
Great story, and Teo is another of those likeable heroines in fiction.
Mourning Emporium is the sequel to the even more
fantastic TheUndrowned Child
... TheUndrowned Child
proved to be one of those sublime reads that stayed with me for weeks
after. The author lives in
Venice and her knowledge of and passion for the city and its history and
mythology shines through on every single page - I'm not sure I have ever
read another book where the elements of historical fact and the fantasy
creations of the author were
so finely blended together as they are in this one. In my opinion Ms
Lovric possesses great skill in two key areas - the ability to produce
a rich prose with great attention to detail without slowing down the
pace of the story; and the other is her character development. In the
first of these two books she delivers two fantastic main characters -
the quirky orphan Teodora and the initially pompous and arrogant Renzo -
as well as a vast supporting cast of colourful characters.
Fortunately, having only read this a few months ago, I did not have long
to wait for more. Although the book works very well as a stand alone
novel ... it turned out to be everything I had hoped for in a
sequel ... Again, Michelle Lovric demonstrates great adeptness at
creating characters that the reader will both love and hate. Miss Uish
is one of the latter - she is truly cruel and a detestable woman who
should join the likes of Miss Trunchbull and Cruella de Vil as a
character that readers spend the whole book looking forward to reading
about whatever nasty demise the author has in store for them. The story
eventually takes our heroes to London, again giving the opportunity to
flex her creative muscles and produce a host of very different, and very
Victorian English, supporting characters from the ones we saw in the
first book. The most enjoyable and noteworthy example of this is
Turtledove, a talking bulldog with something of the Fagin about him,
although far more kindly in the way he treats the waifs and strays in
The Bookzone (for boys), December 4th
'Time for some magic. Michelle Lovric's The Mourning Emporium
(Orion, £9.99) is a sequel to The Undrowned Child but works as
a stand-alone. Teo and Renzo have magical powers and are trying to
defeat Il Traditore, who has flooded Venice in 1900. Mermaids, nuns,
cormorants, seagulls, Syrian cats and vampire eels add to the action as
it shifts to London and back to Venice. It's a big-cast world of
adventures, frights and near misses clearly influenced by Philip
Pullman, Charles Dickens and CS Lewis.' Susan Elkin,
Independent, December 19th
'Do you feel the chill? I certainly do. Michelle Lovric’s The
Mourning Emporium doesn’t have lots of snow, but what it lacks
in that department it more than makes up for with ice. Ice in
Venice. (Well, you can see from the name of that great city that ice
is part of it.) Ice in London. And ice in-between.
This sequel to The Undrowned Child starts at
Christmas with very cold weather in Venice, followed by illness and
death. That’s dead Venetians and a few weeks later a dead Queen
The villain Bajamonte Tiepolo is back and he’s behind
all the deaths, except possibly that of the dear old Queen. Teo’s
parents have been kidnapped and the mermaids have decamped to
London. Soon everybody else – of those who are still alive – are on
their way to London too, on a creaky old ship.
There’s less of the lovely food this time, because the
London mermaids don’t hold with curry. Unfortunately. They like
patent medicines, which is less tasty on the whole. Teo and Renzo
and their shipmates meet a gang of London street urchins, whose job
it is to cry. Hence the Mourning Emporium. Mourning is big business,
even without Victoria’s imminent funeral to look forward to.
Just as in Venice, London is dying and it’s up to Teo
and Renzo and their new friends to stop Bajamonte Tiepolo.
Plenty of humour here ("cast asparagus") and some new
loveable characters, mostly animal. Sleeping with squirrels is a new
trend for the cold. Seems they can keep you warm. White rats. Ew.
Fat weasels. The whole zoo.
Great story, and Teo is another of those likeable
heroines in fiction.'
Bookwitch blog, December 1st
standalone sequel to The Undrowned Child, Michelle Lovric has
provided another rip-roaring tale of amazing ingenuity and
inventiveness. The date is December 1900, and the villainous
real-life Venetian traitor, Bajamonte Tiepolo, has moved his sights
from Venice to London, where Queen Victoria is on her deathbed. With
Venice in the fatal grip of an icy lagoon of bad magic, the Venetian
heroes, Teo(dora) and Renzo, set sail in the Scilla for
London, where they are ably abetted by a wonderful cast of mermaids,
orphans, Venetian pumpkin-sellers known as the Incogniti, a circus
master, ghosts and, best of all, a talking English bulldog,
Lovric’s imaginative characterisation knows no bounds, and
her dialogue sparkles with wit. For an adult reader, who unashamedly
loved every word of it, the book gives a glimpse of the weird and
wonderful Victorian world – the mourning emporium of the title was a
reality, and a host of other details – including the quack medicines
and contraptions used by the hypochondriac English mermaids – are
based on historical fact; for younger readers, it offers a treasure
trove of delight, with an action-packed plot spiced by historical
events and magic.' Lucinda
Historical Novel Society website
is a book that makes me excited about books – about the art of
story-telling, about imagination, about the cleverness and beauty of
the English language, about great characters and about the ability
of a story to transport you someplace else. It was the best kids
book I read last year, and I only happened onto it because I was
searching for kids/YA books that had mermaids in them, and this one
came up. It is a shame it doesn’t seem to be well-known (as far as I
can tell, in Australia). Maybe the release of the second in the
series, The Mourning Emporium,
will change that – I hope so, because
The Undrowned Child has
all the qualities that made
Harry Potter so popular and successful – wit, humour, adventure,
genuine chills, complex, appealing characters and story-telling that
is completely immersive ...
The Undrowned Child
is a fantastic mix of real Venetian history, fascinating
mythology/fairy-tale and a subtle coming-of-age story concerning
Teo, our heroine. The sub-plot involving her feelings for the
infuriating Renzo is touching and beautifully done, her attitude
towards their whole relationship spot-on for the no-longer-child but
not-quite-teen. Teo is flawed and she and Renzo make mistakes in
their mission to save Venice, but this makes their endearing
characters realistic and us empathetic to their many dilemmas.
I was enthralled by just about every character
in The Undrowned Child,
whether they play a big part or small. Lovric has a way with
characterisation and their encounters with each other are a joy to
read. I loved Lovric’s take on mermaids, and her hierarchy of
ghosts. Her "evil" characters are genuinely scary and she creates
some awesome atmosphere with many of her set-pieces.
Undrowned Child really sucked me in was that it is genuinely
witty and sharp, thanks in part to Teo’s way of seeing the world.
Her dialogue is some of the best I’ve read in a children’s book, and
her characters come out with such funny and interesting ways of
expressing themselves. I did notice that she seems to have a
disregard for using the word said – all her characters exclaim, or
talk despondently, or sob, or exclaim snootily, and so on. This goes
against just about everything I’ve been taught about writing, but
you know what? For this book, I think it works. It’s all part of the
book’s quirky charm.
Love, love, loved
The Undrowned Child.
Maybe not suitable for younger readers – but this in intelligent,
amusing, captivating story-telling, and I only hope Lovric gets the
recognition she deserves.' Samantha Ellis,
The Book Grotto website
‘This is a sequel to Lovric's young adult novel
The Undrowned Child, in
which the heroine, Teo, defeated the bad guy. The half-man, half-bat
in question is one Bajamonte Tiepolo, who has now returned to the
stricken city of
despite a prophecy
that has identified Teo and her friend Renzo as the only people who
can save the city. And now Tiepolo has his eye on
as Teo and Renzo find themselves aboard a boat filled with orphans
bound for that bereaved city.
If you don't recognise the influence of J.K.
Rowling on the plot in the first few pages then you have not been
paying attention but the writing style and vision are quite
Lovric is a prolific writer and editor who also
writes for adults.
Her richly dark imagination is often also in evidence here. She is
clever, witty and richly informed and there is plenty in this book
to entertain adults as well as younger readers.’
Sydney Morning Herald, February 2011
Undrowned Child is …
full of characters and rich detail to satisfy the most imaginative
child (or adult!). It’s a complex story, scary with risk, with
death, ghosts, and revenge, but in which the dangers are off-set by
such delightful inventions as mermaids who have a taste for curry
and run a secret printing press. In such a context, it doesn’t seem
so surprising that a librarian may turn into a cat …
The Mourning Emporium … the period
is just as
thrilling as that of
the contrasts are obvious, but both places are sites of that age-old
confrontation between good and evil. Tiepolo is back, and once again
the children and other powers for good must do battle against all
that is unkind, destructive and cruel. And again it is the sheer
inventiveness of image and language that make the book as satisfying
to devour as a large piece of rich fruit cake ― delicious as well as
Then there are the wonderfully Dickensian names to
wallow in (Tobias Putrid, Rosibund Greyhoare, Ann Picklefinch,
Peaglum) and lyrical ones to enjoy (Sofonisba, Fabrizio, Rosato …),
and the humour of a large, talking, child-protecting bull-dog
bearing the unlikely name of Turtledove. And we meet a whole range
of ways of using language as we hear the idiosyncratic accents and
vocabulary of the different characters. But none of this holds up
the fast pace of the story …
For sheer joy, and above all for the development of a
child’s imagination, we need books like the ones Michelle Lovric is
offering us. ‘Imagination’ is the greatest gift we can give our
children: without its ability to help us be other than we are, to
imagine ourselves into other people’s shoes and to create worlds ―
better worlds ― that do not yet exist, civilization falls into
'You can almost smell the poverty and gin wafting off the pages ...
strange story makes gripping historical fantasy.' Flipside,
'As in the first novel, we find
the same mix of historical fact and delicious fantasy and I can only
imagine how many hours of research Michelle must have put into
writing this book. It's a book aimed at children, peopled with
magical mermaids, gigantic killer squid, talking animals and ghostly
pirates, but a section at the end of the novel also tells you what
was real and what wasn't in the novel and we learn that a surprising
number of elements are actually based on historical fact. If only
history lessons at school could be so interesting - it would be
great for teachers to have poetic license and be allowed to throw a
few warrior mermaids in for good measure to liven up the lessons a
Once again, Michelle adds a few life lessons in to the mix, looking
at friendship, bravery, loyalty and sacrifice, but also jealousy,
mistrust and prejudice (both amongst the children and their mermaid
children, who remind me slightly
of Fagin's boys in Oliver Twist, show the sad reality of life for
many children at the turn of the last century and will strike a
chord with young readers.
'This is the sequel to one of my faves - if not favourite -
children's books last year. These books have all the makings of
classics - they are so imaginative and intelligent and immersive,
and at their hearts is such a celebration of story-telling ... One
of the best written series out there at the moment.'
Bookgrotto, May 2011
'The sequel to Lovric's The Undrowned Child moves from
Venice to the dark, narrow backstreets of Victorian London, where an
evil plot to supplant the Royal succession threatens the country.
Teo and Renzo - the Studious Son - continue their roles in the
ancient prophecy and are charged with saving the city, inhabited by
comic drugged mermaids, pirates and talking bulldogs. Where
Lovric’s earlier book was heavy on ghouls and horror, the more
familiar and funnier London locations and characters ameliorate that
tendency, and provide a more readily accessible and understandable
account of Victorian pseudo-history. There are parallels with
characters in Peter Pan, and Lovric creates an entertaining
adventure which offers great opportunities for readers to research
Victorian history and society.'
Booktrust, November 2011
'I loved reading this book as much as the first in the series,
he Undrowned Child, as the
characters are so well described and the plot is so gripping. I
would recommend this book to people who enjoy reading fantasy
fiction.' Danielle Harris, Teen Titles, October 2012
'I wanted to read this as soon as I heard the title. I love the
idea of mourning emporiums (historically, stores which sold nothing
but mourning clothes and accessories) and wanted to see how another
author would fit them into a book. The story had me on the edge of
my seat: it's a sparkling, whirling mass of a book, different from
any other historical fiction you'll read. It takes place in a sort
of alternative Venice and moves to London, and there's a great cast
of characters including mermaids, a clever cat and a whimsical and
wonderful talking dog. Ingenious!' Mary Hooper,
the Guardian 14 May 2013
tale not only offers a richly detailed historical view of Venice,
but also provides a vividly imaginative take on the city (an
interesting section at the back gives an account of what is true and
what is not – it is a great insight into Venetian history and
legend). Imbued with magic, mystery and a rip-roaring plot, this
book is a gripping read for older children, with lyrical and
compelling prose, and a depiction of a fantasy Venice that is both
evocative and beautiful.’ Italia Magazine, February 2012
‘I love a great story that
takes you on a whirlwind adventure and to be honest Michelle's
writing always does that for me. Here in the latest release is a
story that gives you magic, high adventure and of course an overall
arc that will enchant you from the first page to the last. Add to
this Michelle's solid use of prose, cracking dialogue and a lead
character that the readers will want to embark on their adventure
with and it's a story that was a pure joy to read.
Finally add to this a sense of whimsy, an enchanting story overall
and a whole host of supporting cast members that will make this a
hard tale to forget. Great stuff.’ Gareth
Amazon, February 2012
‘Talina is a delightful main
character. She is determined and outspoken, ready to publically
criticise people who kill egrets for their feathers, and to argue
with her teacher. She is not always easy to live with, as quick to
condemn as to love, but her stubborn spirit and her willingness to
try anything, no matter how dangerous or bizarre, to achieve her
ends are exactly the qualities she will need to call upon as she
finds herself in peril after peril. This contrasts strongly with the
majority of the adults of
, who are portrayed
as passive, even cowardly, in their refusal to see the truth right
under their noses, or to believe their children, who are the only
ones able to see the magic-ridden predators. Venice
itself is so well portrayed that it
becomes a character in its own right. Its narrow streets, its murky
canals and dark, secret towers are the setting for an astonishing
world of witches, hags, mermaids and magicians. Tea towels become
means of transport, ordinary household ingredients are combined into
potions, and a small boy is allowed to stand up in court and argue
for the preservation of the city. The book is an exciting, amusing
and enchanting read.’ Linda Lawlor,
The Bookbag, January 2012
is conjured up in all her shabby glory: the mould, the shattered
stone, the dank alleys, and the looming presence of the lagoon.
This is no coffee-table book image to entice tourists. Michelle
spends half her time living in a flat overlooking the
. She knows the real city and that knowledge
oozes through every page of this book, so that when the city's
funeral takes place you react as if one of the characters were being
mourned. But the story isn't just about setting. There
is an actioned packed plot, with wonderful characters, fantastical
beasts, and a deliciously wry, dry sense of humour threading all the
way through. And there are mischief and mayhem, horror and gore, fun
and games. I don't think I've enjoyed reading something so much for
ages and I just wish I had young enough children to read this out
loud to them at bed-time, because it's got exactly the sort of
language that makes you want to read it out loud.’
J.E. Towey, February 2012
‘Michelle Lovric has once again created a
rollicking adventure full of history, awesome imagination and
fantastic characters of all sorts. I've been a huge fan since the
day I first read The Undrowned Child, and she does not disappoint
with this new Venetian tale, set some 30 odd years before The
Undrowned Child. Talina is a force to be reckoned with, smart,
with a voracious appetite for reading (she can read one book with
each eye, though this can cause some calamities like faulty spells),
and a trouble maker with a temper when backed into a corner. She's
renowned as the terror of the neighbourhood and it's all these
qualities that make her funny and charming to the reader- though
likely nobody you'd want to have to babysit in real life.
As is her style, Lovric’s latest story has twice the cast of animals
and magical creatures then humans. Everything from vicious
hyena/wolf hybrids to ghosts, rats and cats, fill the pages. Many
of them are so much fun they steal the scene every time they crop
up. I was especially fond of the bully stray cats Bestard-Belou and
Albicocco. Lovric’s use of language always lends a special quality
to her stories, and the cats are certainly no exception. Her writing
is witty and full of fabulous vocabulary, giving any reader the
added bonus of brushing up on their intelligent banter by extension.
Without a doubt this will leave younger readers with a fair amount
of questions about what certain words mean and it's jokes like this
one that makes me wish I could be a fly on the wall for the first
parent answering what a Enema is:
Somewhat more reluctantly, she resorted
to a fat syringe labelled 'Elf Enemas' to baste her spicy sausages,
and only after scrubbing it out first.’
The Diary of a Bookworm, February 2012
‘At first, the book seems
predictable, because it seems like the same old kidnapping story.
But then, the story takes off in a different direction, and I
couldn’t put this book down. I enjoyed it immensely, especially the
ending. I liked the female creatures – but I can’t say any more
without giving it away! I’d love to go to
, after having read the book – it’s got
canals instead of streets.
really helps the story – if it was set in Croydon, it wouldn’t work.
I found this book funny, filled with action and informative. Overall
I give this book five stars out of five. Read it!’
This Book, February 2012
‘I think this book deserves five out of
five stars. You could tell I was enjoying this book because whenever
I read it I had a smile on my face. This book was so good than even
when my parents were talking loudly (they’re very noisy) I was swept
away into its magical adventures.’ Bellusaurus sui, Biblioteca
Reviews, January 2012
‘Or ‘”twenty-two” things to do to
a tea towel. That could be by magic or in more traditional ways. The
tea towels in Michelle Lovric’s new book are both useful and quite
obedient. And that tells you a little about what kind of story
Talina in the Tower is. There’s lots of magic and plenty of
adventure. Talina is another feisty young heroine, rather like
Teodora from The Undrowned Child, except she lives in
over thirty years before Teodora, at a time when there’s another
horrible threat to this beautiful city. The reader will recognise
many of the characters in Talina either as a younger version of
someone from Teodora’s time, or as someone bearing the same surname
as one of the later characters. It’s nice with the continuity, and
in an odd way it’s reassuring to know that they didn’t live ‘happily
ever after,’ because we already know more trouble happens ... As
usual in Michelle’s books there’s lots of food, although not all of
it terribly appetising. This is an exciting tale of courage and
friendship and love for your family. I think Talina in the Tower
might be even better than the other two novels. Or I might think so
because it’s my most recently read book. The beautiful cover is
purple. That always helps.’
Bookwitch, February 2012
‘My verdict: brilliant fun! A lively
fantasy adventure for 8+.
I really liked Talina as a character. I do
have a soft spot for bold girls and Talina is certainly that. Famous
for her impudence and temper, she has the nerve to go against adult
characters (who can be in the wrong) and to fight to save her
as a whole. She also does develop through the course of the story
and isn't quite the same Talina at the end as at the beginning.
The narration is third person, allowing some comment on and
description of Talina from the outside and there are some wonderful
touches in the dialogue. I appreciated the way some of the male cats
spoke, showing their masculinity and roughness (like "dat's da
troof"), and the fake French accents used by the Ravageurs to hide
their true origins … Once of the things I loved most about this book
was the addition at the back of a section entitled "What is real and
what is made up". These few pages precisely outline which elements
of the story are factual and which are invented (unsurprisingly!). I
would have loved this kind of detail as a child, and I'm sure my
daughter will lap this up too. I was surprised at some of the small
details which had come from historical fact; this section definitely
added to my enjoyment of the book. Overall, this is a classic
children's fantasy with magical creatures, well-rounded characters
and plenty of twists and setbacks.’ Beth Kemp,
Thoughts from the Hearthfire, February 2012
‘I loved the characters in the book. They were full of quirks that
made them so real and extremely funny. Talina is a very strong
character - no one messes with her. She is like a tornado as she
jumps in head first to sort the whole of
out almost single handedly. I think she is one of the strongest
female characters I have read since finishing meeting Katniss in The
Hunger Games. Her love for her family spurs her into action and she
will stop at nothing until she finds her parents. The writing is
beautiful and descriptive allowing you to sample life in
just by turning the page. The imagery is stunning and I found myself
desperately wanting to visit
, but with Michelle as my tour guide.
With each description of
, you can tell how
much the author loves the city; her words breathe out enthusiasm and
affection. The dialogue is hilarious. I loved the accents of the
cats in it, it truly brought them to life. I love the way the author has intermingled fantasy with reality. A
cast of fantasy and mythical creatures intermingling with humans as
they wander through the real streets of
. The plot had me hooked from the first
page, as I wondered what on earth was happening to all the people of
the town. Michelle Lovric has created an enchanting novel that has
left me wanting more.’
Serendipity Reviews, February 2012
‘…But on to the most important part - the
story itself. Once again, we are instantly plunged into the magical,
enchanting world of
with descriptions so evocative that you
can actually feel the cold mist, taste the salty breeze and smell
the mouldy damp and the faint whiff of fish as you read. The
waterlogged city is once again under attack from strange other-wordly
creatures. Now, I loved the combattant mermaids in the previous
books with their ancient oaths picked up from the pirates and their
permanent whiff of curry so I was sad to learn that they were out of
town in this novel, otherwise occupied fighting distant battles, but
I was soon won over by the new villains, the Ravageurs. Pretending
to be French, these slobbering wolf/hyena crossbreeds speak with an
atrocious French accent that kept bringing to mind Monty Python's
The Holy Grail. Although the book is definitely aimed at children,
it's a fabulous read for adults too and some of the wordplay would
go straight over young readers' heads. For example, I laughed out
loud at the wild witches who need years to calm their outrageous
ways until they are "coven-ready", knowing that kids wouldn't even
see the joke. But children are central to the plot as, once
again, the only person who can hope to save the ill-fated city is a
child, albeit a very special not-quite-cat child with a high level
of impudence and a few magic tricks up her sleeve. I would love to
share Talina's ability to read two books simultaneously! The
cast of supporting characters is full of extravagant and
unforgettable individuals too, including the lovable Venetian
grannies and the long-repressed female Ravageurs, who give a lovely
message to younger readers that you shouldn't listen to anyone who
tells you you're worthless.’ Cheryl Pasquier,
Madhouse Family Reviews, February 2012
'This is intelligently written:
beautiful prose, witty dialogue, plus enough gore and gruesome
Venetian history to satisfy modern children. Her first children's
book, The Undrowned Child, had imagery so potent that it
followed me into my dreams.'
‘Reading Talina in the Tower was a
lovely experience that took me back to those summer days when I was
a kid, devouring one book after another. With a touch of history and
a sprinkling of magic set in a spectacular backdrop, this was a
lovely book to read and enjoy … To say this story is wonderfully
creative would be an understatement. It is more than that – vivid,
believable, well written, and heart-wrenching. Despite the eclectic
collection of creatures and people, it makes sense and is
believable. They seem real and leaped off the pages as I read along.
The adventure quest took me from one set of troubles to the next,
always keeping those pages turning. This novel is aimed at the young
adult market, but can be enjoyed by adults as well because the prose
and story is rich and not overly simplified. From the beauty of its
breath-taking cover to the wonderfully emotional tale told with
spell-binding prose, this is a treasure of a book I’ve placed
lovingly on my collector’s shelf – one to keep and pass on to the
next generation of children in my family.’
Historical Review blogspot, April 2012
‘I'm a bit embarrassed that this is my
first Michelle Lovric book despite the fact that I have loved the
look of them and thought that each one sounds fascinating. I've
finally put this right and have to say that I had an idea in my head
of how Talina would read and I was both right - and wrong. I mean, I
expected it to be a Venetian fairy story full of magic, and it is
but there's a lot more to Talina than this. I wasn't expecting the
book to be so funny, so full of horror and to be so innovative. The
heroine was a surprise to me too. I thought she'd be resourceful and
fearless and she was but she was also foolish and at times
infuriating. But she also has a huge heart and is charming, a true
flawed heroine … There's brilliant magic throughout this book that
made me constantly wonder what was going to happen next. I was very
fond of the idea of Thaumaturgic Tea Towels that can be ridden like
magic carpets but if damaged can be torn into four and reform
themselves and can also be a great handkerchief if needed. I also
loved the island of grandmothers and their cats who all adore Talina
and watch out for her when they can. Magic is interwoven through the
pages in such a way that it's entirely natural but also wonderfully
surprising too. Later in the book there's a court case and
everything about it made me smile. The jury and onlookers are all
manner of people, creatures and the paranormal. You really couldn't
ask for more from a book.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. I think it would appeal
as much to boys as well as girls as it has plenty of gore alongside
the magical to keep everyone happy. I'm definitely going to read
Michelle's other books based in
My Favourite Books blogspot, March 2012
‘I love a great story that takes you on a
whirlwind adventure and to be honest Michelle’s writing always does
that for me. Here in the latest release is a story that gives you
magic, high adventure and of course an overall arc that will enchant
you from the first page to the last. Add to this Michelle’s solid
use of prose, cracking dialogue and a lead character that the
readers will want to embark on their adventure with and it’s a story
that was a pure joy to read.
Finally add to this a sense of whimsy, an enchanting story overall
and a whole host of supporting cast members that will make this a
hard tale to forget. Great stuff.’ Tatty’s Treasure Chest, February
‘I want to call Michelle's books a guilty
pleasure, but I think that would be doing them a gross disservice as
it implies that I shouldn't really be loving them as much as I do.
Perhaps I should replace the word 'guilty' for 'the
ultimate story-lover's', for that is what they are to me. Each
one of these three books has contained a story that I
have luxuriated in reading, the kind of stories I never wanted to
finish, but when they did they left me feeling complete … Michelle
Lovric has a command of the English language that many authors can
only dream of, which can make her stories a little hard going for
less able readers. However, I would not be surprised if many
confident young readers choose to read her books again and again.
Michelle uses her rich prose to weave a luxurious tapestry of a
fairytale, populated with colourful characters, the dialogue between
whom is another stand out feature of the story. It is at times
funny, poignant, or menacing, depending on who is doing the talking,
and what the situation is, and I would dearly love to see these
stories adapted for the screen, with a cast of our greatest living
actors to do them the justice they deserve.’
Bookzone4boys blogspot, March 2012
thought for a long time about whether this book could be called an
historical novel or not. It certainly has fairy-tale and magical
elements which argue against it. On the other hand, it is obvious
that Michelle Lovric has done her homework; the novel is set in a
very real, precisely dated
, whose sights, sounds and smells come
across with wonderful clarity. It is also more than just a tale of
magic. This is a story of human greed, evil-doing, repentance,
forgiveness and redemption which resonates long after you’ve
finished reading. It concerns exploitation (the Ravageurs were paid
for their land with a few cheap trinkets and sweets); imperialism
(the Venetians feel themselves to be superior and look down on
and human rights (the female Ravageurs are kept in a state of
subservience and ignorance), all of which are still relevant today.
‘I was especially pleased to learn about
this book, not only because I adore Italian historical fiction, but
because it is aimed towards the youth market. The beautiful cover
art drew me to it even more and made reading it a true pleasure. It
is a wonderful book to introduce history and fantasy to an avid
young reader. Girls especially will love it, but so will
boys. Reading Talina in the Tower was a lovely experience
that took me back to those summer days when I was a kid, devouring
one book after another. With a touch of history and a sprinkling of
magic set in a spectacular backdrop, this was a lovely book to read
and enjoy. It is the tale of a bold girl whose parents are missing.
She is forced to live with an evil guardian who writes books about
children who meet tragic ends, but she is determined to persevere
and sets out in search for her parents. Born with the ability to
read two books simultaneously, Talina accidently turns herself into
a cat while reading a magic book and recipe at the same time. And
then a magical adventure begins filled with fascinating characters,
terrible creatures, and a very nasty villain.
To say this story is wonderfully creative would be an
understatement. It is more than that – vivid, believable, well
written, and heart-wrenching. Despite the eclectic collection of
creatures and people, it makes sense and is believable. They seem
real and leaped off the pages as I read along. The adventure quest
took me from one set of troubles to the next, always keeping those
pages turning. This novel is aimed at the young adult market, but
can be enjoyed by adults as well because the prose and story is rich
and not overly simplified. From the beauty of its breath-taking
cover to the wonderfully emotional tale told with spell-binding
prose, this is a treasure of a book I’ve placed lovingly on my
collector’s shelf – one to keep and pass on to the next generation
of children in my family.’
History and Women blogspot, April 2012
'Michelle Lovric is one of my favourite
children's authors working today. I have been a big fan since
I read her first children’s novel
The Undrowned Child – her story-telling skills are top
notch. Talina in the Tower, like
Lovric’s two books before it, is written with imagination,
intelligence, humour that snaps and loving attention to
and its history. If you truly want to escape, her books are your
Talina in the Tower is set in late
. It is described
with gothic flare; on the brink of disaster and inhabited by
frightened people and even more frightening creatures. I really
enjoy Lovric’s cast lists. Talina is populated with vultures,
sarcastic rats, cat gangs, Ravageurs (think evil, malformed wolves)
and human characters even more quirky and strange than the creatures
roaming about all around them. All Lovric’s characters have this
gorgeous pantomimic quality this is endearing rather than
over-the-top. I am actually jealous of some of the amazing character
creations she comes up with. She obviously takes great joy in
crafting their dialogue and it is fantastic stuff.
is along the Teo mould from The Undrowned Child: wilful;
clever; impudent, temperamental and brave. She has a huge heart and
is wonderfully resourceful. I love girl characters like this. She is
the perfect character to go on this adventure with. I also love how
Lovric can so easily make ‘evil’ characters multi-faceted with just
a few paragraphs.
The story is plot-heavy and full of twists and turns. It is dark and
doesn’t shy away from barbaric or mature themes. But this is where
Lovric’s wonderful humour kicks in. She has a great knack for
capturing peripheral action, and there are some brilliant asides and
observations from characters who are observing the main action (the
story is told in third person). She also makes
and its history alive and interesting, and manages the perfect
balance of fact and fiction. It took me a while to open up the book,
because I knew how dense Lovric’s books can be (in a good way). But
once I started reading Talina I was hooked.
sounds like I’m raving it’s because I am. Lovric has some of the
best children’s writing out there. I wish my own books reach the
same imaginative highs as hers.’
Book Grotto blog, January 2012
'Mysterious weird happenings are beautifully integral to the complex plots of books by Michelle Lovric and in Talina in the Tower the setting is Venice with awful Ravageur creatures on the prowl. Talina is housed in a remote tower with her odd guardian but can venture out and about in her own catness disguise into a city of magic and magical history.' School Librarian, summer 2013
'The book is superbly plotted with some very enchanting ideas
e.g. walls that have tiny
ears to listen in on anyone whocriticises
the evil ruler. The lazy inhabitants rely on various automata
inventions which are described in
particularly vivid detail and
will easily capture your imagination e.g. magical
talking statues, winged cats and the infamous mermaids (from
books) that are known as the protectors of Venice. There
is so much going on in this story that you are never quite sure
what's coming around the corner. It could be amazingly written
dialogue one minute quickly followed by humour and laughs the
next. With a combination of suspense, mystery, horror and mayhem
this story really does have the lot. It is a truly creative and,
in my opinion, a one of a kind reading experience. I'm really
looking forward to the next book...'
Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books, May 2013
'A highly imaginative read, The Fate in the Box
is full of exotic characters, exciting twists and chilling
portents – perfect for young, enquiring minds. The story
enchants the reader immediately with its elegant Venetian
setting, complete with gondolas, superstitious festivities,
and a compelling fascination for novelty.
Fusing history with fantasy, fact with fiction, Michelle
Lovric creates an incredibly bizarre yet believable world,
where anything is possible – think gutter-mouthed mermaids,
primeval crocodiles, mechanical monkey priests, courageous
children and the perfect archetype baddie, Fogfinger!
The language throughout is both sophisticated and
comical, and the multi-dimensional plot delivers on so many
levels. You cannot help cheering the characters on as they
make their way through mishap and misfortune, bizarre
encounters and unexpected turns.
Lovric uses a unique and charismatic approach to standard
themes such as good vs evil, right vs wrong, selfishness vs
the greater good and the right to redemption and revenge.
Overall, The Fate in the Box delivers a gripping
blend of nail-biting adventure, brain-tingling mystery and
laugh-out-loud slapstick – with a rewarding ending,
guaranteed to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Firmly in the Middle Grade age range, this book would be
suitable for any child with a love of mystery, adventure,
fantasy or history – and is certain to become a true
favourite, read again and again.'
Inis Magazine, May 2013
'… even though I find and enjoy
lots of fiction related to the places I'm going, it's rare
to find an author who is as completely smitten with the
place as I am, someone who has delved into a place's history
and current affairs and makes it his or her business to
really make readers feel they are right there.
Michelle Lovric is one of these authors, and
is her specialty. Not that
finding companion reading for
is difficult, but if you have not yet read The Undrowned
Child or its sequel The Mourning Emporium and
you're en route to
absolutely sure these are in your carry-on bag! But
even if you're not literally off to Venice, if you are a fan
of page-turning historical fiction or adventure stories you
will love these books … I put Lovric's fictional writing
about Venice in the same category as Alan Furst's writing
about Paris, Sarah Dunant's writing about Renaissance
Florence, Lawrence Durrell's writing about Alexandria, and
Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz writing about Fra Filippo
Lippi in their book The Miracles of Prato.’ Barrie Kerper,
Collected Traveller blogspot, May 2013
‘There is great evil and paranoia
in this Italian adventure and much fun to be had in what is
really a kind of distant prequel to the wonderful 'Undrowned
World' by Ms Lovric … A complex delight with vivid writing
that brings old Venice to life in a way that only Michelle
Lovric can do. Are there any mermaids you ask? – Can
there just be only one shrivelled specimen in the
Read on if you dare. You will not be disappointed.’
blog, May 2013
‘The Fate in the Box is
not for the faint-hearted; in the very first chapter, it
seems that Amneris is to be sacrificed at the whim of
Fogfinger; she is forced to climb a tall tower, where the
Fate in the Box will decide whether she will walk back down
again or whether the trapdoor beneath her feet will open,
catapulting her into the deep lagoon hundreds of feet below
where a terrible sea monster is said to lurk. There are far
more edge-of-the-seat moments to follow. But the way the
story is told is so affirmative that, even as you seriously
consider taking shelter behind the sofa, you know that
ultimately good – and the children – will triumph. I’d
recommend this to boys and girls who enjoy adventure,
humour, fantasy, and a good story phenomenally well told.
It's published by Orion.’ Sue Purkiss,
An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, May 2013
‘The novel is tightly and
intricately plotted, with plenty of clues (and red herrings)
as to how it will all fit together. I certainly wasn't able
to predict the details of the story and there is more than
enough to surprise and delight a child reader. Michelle
Lovric uses magic and fantastic beasts to help the children,
working within the quest and fairy tale traditions of
magical helpers, but it is their own bravery which
ultimately spurs them on, resulting in a satisfying tale for
young readers.’ Beth Kemp,
Thoughts from the Hearthfire blog, May 2012
‘To me it feels like
Michelle Lovric’s children’s books are getting better and
better. I really, really liked The Fate in the Box, which is
set in the same fantasy
as her previous
books, but a little earlier. It’s 1783 and a child is about
to be sacrificed. As prologues go, this was a good one. In
only a few short pages you get to know and like – love, even
– Amneris, and you can just feel that something momentous is
going to happen. But you can’t guess what.
The ghastly Irishman
Fogfinger has taken over
and everyone is scared. Automata do everything for the rich,
while the poor get poorer. And hungrier. There is much going
on that people don’t understand, but Amneris and her friends
Tockle and Biri end up being thrown in at the deep end, in
more ways than one. They are brave and friendly and
resourceful, like any good fictional heroes should be. They
even befriend the rather dreadful Latenia, who is rich and
spoilt, and too fat to be sacrificed.
And what about the
crocodile that reputedly eats children? Or the strange
goings-on in the families of Tockle and Amneris? Talking –
and flying – cats seems quite a normal thing, once you get
used to this version of
. Its statues are not always as stony as
Things get worse before
they can get better. There is an underground movement
against Fogfinger, but what can they do? This is just so
exciting! And the clever Michelle adds lots of real natural
history as well as facts about
to her fantasy
plot, so there is a risk that the reader gets a worthwhile
education. Go on! Take that risk!’
Bookwitch blog, May 2013
‘I was very excited when a review
copy of The Fate in The Box - or "the book with the
monkey's bum on the back cover" as a giggling Juliette
instantly dubbed it! - landed on the Madhouse doormat. I
always think author Michelle Lovric has a totally unique
voice - her tales are an enchanting blend of magical
fairytalesque children's story and incisive analysis of
human failings and motivations so her writing appeals as
much to adults as to children … The Fate In The Box takes
us back to Venice, once again under the tyranny of an evil
villain who is destroying the city and its inhabitants with
his demonic minions. The terrifying Fogfinger has spies
everywhere and walls really do have ears so nobody is safe
from his Fog Squad. The Venetians live in fear on a day to
day basis, but more particularly when the terrible annual
Lambing Ceremony comes around - a child picked by Fogfinger
must climb the steps of the belltower and rely on the Fate
in The Box to see if he or she must leap to almost certain
death in the murky waters of the canal below. If drowning
doesn't cause their sad demise, the horrific Primeval
Crocodile reputed to be living in the lagoon surely will.
But Michelle Lovric is writing for tweens and teens so it's
all very PG-rated and the baddies will eventually be
defeated. Unlikely heroes Anmeris and Tockle will embark on
a dangerous and exciting adventure, meeting eccentric
characters and uncovering the most mysterious secrets of the
city they live in, with a little help from a magical glass
kaleidoscope and - yippee! Those fabulous curry-addicted
mermaids that we met in the previous adventures!
Michelle Lovric creates some
wildly imaginative creatures and personalities, including
the city of Venice itself which becomes so much more than
just a setting for the action, almost taking on the role of
an integral character in the plot. It's an exciting,
fantastical tale but as a grown-up, I also love the
underlying message that we shouldn't rely on machines and
technology so much - there's a great lesson in there for our
kids (and even grown-ups) if they pick up on it.
Madhouse Family Reviews, August 7th, 2013
‘Fogfinger rules Venice. His Fog
Squad and spies are everywhere. The Venetians fear him and
obey him. Every year one of their children is lost in a
grisly Lambing ceremony. The child must climb the bell tower
and let the Fate in the Box decide their destiny. Most end
their days in the jaws of the primeval Crocodile that lurks
in the lagoon. Or so Fogfinger tells them. But a chance
meeting by a green apricot tree between Amneris and Tockle
may be the beginning of the end for Fogfinger. Silk and
sewing, a magical glass kaleidoscope, mermaids and
misunderstood Sea-Saurs, talking statues and winged cats,
blue glass sea-horses, a spoiled rich girl and a secret
society are just some of the ingredients in Michelle
Lovric's exquisitely imagined and superbly plotted fourth
fantasy set in Venice. Writer Michelle Lovric takes us back
to her beloved Venice in The Fate in the Box, her
fourth book for children set in this magical city. As with
her previous book, Talina in the Tower, this is a standalone
novel that can be read without first reading her other
books, although fans of her previous stories will take great
delight in spotting the occasional familiar character, and
in particular those foul-mouthed mermaids that first
entertained us so much in The Undrowned Child. Venice
is in trouble again. Or rather, as this is set more than one
hundred years before Michelle's other three stories, perhaps
that should just be Venice is in trouble. The evil and
dictatorial Fogfinger rules over the city with an iron fist,
and anyone who speaks out against his rule seems to vanish
overnight, with only rumours between locals giving any
indication of where they may have gone. When Fogfinger came
to Venice he brought with him his wonderful clockwork
inventions, and now the elite of Venice have become fat,
lazy and pretty useless as they rely on these contraptions
to do pretty much everything for them. They do not even wind
the machines themselves - the desperate and hungry poor are
tasked with carrying out this soul-destroying job every
night whilst the rich sleep. Fogfinger's devices are
everywhere - the aforementioned crime of being caught saying
something against the state is a common occurrence, given
that the walls literally have ears, devices known as
Anagrammaticular. Yet again, the heroes of Michelle story
are a mixed bunch of children; kids who in other
circumstances would probably never have been friends, but
who come together to fight against evil. Amneris is from a
family renowned for their needlework, and she is tasked with
the fine embroidery. Every morning without fail Amneris
turns a mysterious kaleidoscope seven times, and then
replicates the pattern with coloured threads. These designs
are incredibly popular and keep the family well away from
the doorstep of poverty. Temistocle is much further down the
poverty ladder, his mother being a water seller. He is from
a family of kaleidoscope makers, but his father is long
absent and Tockle, as he is known, has no idea where he is.
And then there is Biri, a young con artist who lives off the
streets, both of her parents having been exiled to Serbia
for being members of the Piccoli Pochi, a secret
society dedicated to overthrowing Fogfinger. Together these
three must fight the evil of Fogfinger's regime whilst
evading the secret police and the horrific Lambing - the
annual ceremony where a child of Venice is sacrificed to
keep at bay the Primaeval Crocodile that the city
folk believe lives in the depths of the canal. Seriously? Do
I really need to write a review of this book? I have totally
loved every one of the three Venice-set books that Michelle
has already written for children. In my
review for Talina in the Tower I stated that "Each
one of these three books has contained a story that I have
luxuriated in reading, the kind of stories I never wanted to
finish, but when they did they left me feeling complete"
and this statement stands for The Fate in the Box as
well. With this, her fourth book, surely it is time that
Michelle is lauded by all as one of the current greats,
along with the likes of David Almond, John Boyne, and even
Neil Gaiman. I certainly enjoyed this a lot more than I did
The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Again, at the root
of this story is the classic battle of good against evil,
and Michelle Lovric writes evil very well indeed. Fogfinger
is possibly her most devious and despicable villain to date,
and his control of Venice is absolute. He has cleverly
managed to wheedle his way into the affections of the city's
elite, and then though his mechanical creations has created
a reliance amongst them stronger than any Class A drug. The
Lambing Ceremony is a perfect example of just how much the
people rely on him - they will even 'allow' children to be
sacrificed because Fogfinger says that it is required. This,
right from the very beginning of the book, we are left
wondering just how the three children who are our heroes
could possibly survive against such evil, and our hearts
pound as readers as they experience peril after peril.
Michelle's imagination is up there with the very best of
writers around at the moment (and yes, I do include the
aforementioned Gaiman in that statement), and she is writing
stories that nobody else is producing for children at the
moment: wildly imagined fantasy stories, with a firm
grounding in the historical Venice, but with the city
reimagined so well that readers will struggle to spot the
fine line between what is real history and what is the
product of the author's sublime imagination. These
stories are so unlike the majority of books that I read and
yet I really, really love them. As a history buff I
naturally can't help but love that aspect of the story.
Venice is also one of my favourite cities out of those I
have visited and so I love this element as well. I also
adore Michelle's characters - I cheer on the heroes and I
love to hate the villain(s). I also love the way that
Michelle plots her stories so expertly - there are twists
and turns and red herrings aplenty, and I love trying to
guess how the plot will unravel. I could wax lyrical about
The Fate in the Box, and its predecessors, for some
time, but I appreciate that I am beginning to ramble (again)
and if you're not going to pick up one of Michelle's books
based on what I have written so far then you probably never
will (and it will be your great loss, I tell you). Somewhere
I have a must used book mark that bears a quote by the great
Mark Twain. I think it goes something like: "My books are
like water; those of the great geniuses are wine.
Fortunately everybody drinks water". Yes, I drink a lot of
water, but every now and again I like to partake of a fine
wine, and Michelle Lovric's books are among the finest of
fine wines available. My thanks go to the ever lovely people
at Orion for sending me a copy of this book to read.
Bookzone4Boys, August 15th, 2013
'In this richly imagined world there is much of the real Venice; but Lovric wears her learning lightly and the result is a compellingly written fantasy of great originality.' School Librarian, summer 2013