July 05, 2006
The Greenmanreview and Maddalena: De gustibus non est disputandum
Dear reader, there is no accounting for taste.
There are Reviewers, and there are reviewers.
Taste in books is so personal.
In one of my previous entries, I reflect on two New York Times reviews of In the Company of the Courtesan, and the author’s reaction to them. You might find it interesting.
Donna Bird’s reviews posted on greenmanreview.com are some of the most pedantic I’ve ever read, and admirable (do read the preface to the review, after finishing my blog!). With the stealthiness of Miss Marple and the steadfastness of Hercule Poirot, her intelligent eye and keen mind poke, examine, and deliver.
It’s too bad that her endurance does not appear to match her other gifts! At least not long enough to have perused Maddalena’s table of contents or to have skimmed through Credo, Nemesis, or Inferno, three chapters embodying the spirit of late sixteenth-century ecclesiastic Rome! They have nothing in common with the early voyeuristic chapters reflecting on a prelate, the life-time career (more than fifty-years-long) of the second-in-command after the pope, someone who did not take his sacred vows for thirty years.
Ms. Bird’s biting commentary of Maddalena, comparing the book to The Da Vinci Code, reflects not only a particular taste, but also a state of mind.
I congratulate Ms. Bird on her first Grinch Award, perhaps cemented by her “Oh, gross” comment, a response to Cardinal Alessandro’s sexual reaction to his pawing the statue of Venus. Aparently Ms. Bird prefers more natural descriptive passages in historical fiction, for example: “She said nothing, but drew him into an alleyway and parted her cloak. The mist isolated them in an instant. He shuddered between her legs, staring into her eyes…” She certainly didn’t pick on that aspect in her review of Ms. Lovric’s The Floating Book. It is full of wine and roses.
I’d say the passage is not gross. It’s plain vulgar. And then it ends with: “Tears transpired on his cheeks.”
Doesn't that fill you with true emotion?
De gustibus non est disputandum.
Along with a glass of wine, my unchaste prelate, Alessandro Farnese, does indeed offer pork, cheese, and oysters to a Jewish woman. Mine was a careful choice. When Venus calls, a man’s brain may indeed descend between his legs.
As for the wine, Ms. Lovic’s sentence: “So do you have some red wine, Mister Nobleman” is surely ridiculous, at best. Yet, once again, it seems acceptable to the pedantic reviewer, as written in a novel set in the latter half of fifteenth-century Venice.
Umm. My titles of dignitaries and nobility are boringly rooted in period documents.
Apologia. So are so many passages that lack contemporary parlance. So sorry.
Reverendissimo signor padrone mio, verster servus humilis.
The poor General of the Jesuits had to humble himself to the man who controlled the strings for building the first Jesuit church in Rome. A difficult task. Must also be difficult to sweeten any unsavory dish, even just a bit; Ms. Bird does that handsomely for Ms. Lovric’s latest, not so accomplished, literary contribution.
Ooh. Reviewers, the humble servants of big publishers?
And small publishers? Are they beneath contempt? Apparently.
As someone “not steeped in the culture and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and not comfortable referring to anyone as 'Him',” she is also unable to understand other aspects of Maddalena. The book’s illustrations that “remind her of the artwork she did when she was in her early teens, the last time she really did any drawing” (bravissima!) are de facto faithful interpretations of sixteenth-century compositions and graphic art.
Lucretia’s drawing, for example, is based on a study attributed, unjustly perhaps, to one Luca Cambiaso, a study hidden in a dark drawer of a European graphic collection. The carpet page with Berti and Alba is based on a genuine Spranger drawing. He was the miniaturist to the Queen of France and employed by the cardinal’s famous miniaturist, Giulio Clovio. If their style evokes pictures from fairy tales, or illuminated manuscripts, so is the biblical ending of the book, a plea for a world where all creatures are equal.
As I already said, there is no accounting for taste.
And, not surprisingly, not all readers shared Ms. Bird’s view of The Floating Book. An Amazon reviewer found it “pretentious, but trashy--not much more than a particularly lurid Harlequin.”
I trust many of you will enjoy Maddalena. There are no good or bad reviews. There are reviews.
P.S. I forgot. The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.
And in Maine, there are no “shore winds.”
Miss Marple will understand.
Posted by Eva Siroka at July 5, 2006 10:24 AM