The Venetian's Wife by Nick Bantock

About The Venetian's Wife: A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis by Nick BantockNick Bantock's illustrated novel, The Venetian's Wife, is part love story, part mystery, and part ghostly tale—and an altogether bewitching brew of sensuality and lost treasures. Thoroughly bored with her job at the local museum, Sarah heads to the gallery to take another look at that new drawing, the one she can't stop thinking about, the one of the Hindu god Shiva, who dances...That's when it all begins.

The next day, an e-mail message brings her a job offer: to find the few remaining pieces of a 15th-century adventurer's renowned collection of Indian sculptures. Her employer, curiously, wishes to communicate only by computer. She has no idea who he is or why he wants her. But other mysteries soon preoccupy her, such as the meaning of an enigmatic illuminated manuscript—and the sensual transformation that seems to be overtaking her.

Through her quirkily decorated diary and the artful e-mail exchanges between Sara and her mentor, Nick Bantock has conjured up a richly illustrated tale of a relentless quest, an amorous legacy, and the resonating power of art—a lush, romantic adventure of the soul that tantalizes the reader to the last line.

My two cents

I got a few of you interested in The Venetian's Wife: A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis by Nick Bantock in my recent Friday 56. So without much ado, here's my promised post!

The book in one sentence: A bored young art conservator rekindles her passion for life starting with an unlikely encounter with a drawing of the Hindu God Shiva.

My thoughts: This is an unusual book. The title alone gives you an inkling that it's not a typical story. In fact, it may seem such an odd combination that it may put you off. After all, what on earth could these things have in common: a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis?

But that is exactly what you'll get and there is nothing remotely corny about it. In fact, I found the  experience of flipping through this book quite heady - a combination of romance, a mystery story, the mysticism of India, and rich luxuriant images.

The book opens with the renaissance explorer - a flashback to Niccolo Conti's anguish as he loses his beloved wife. It then comes back to the present-day and Sara Wolfe's arousing encounter with a drawing of Shiva in the museum where she works.

An unlikely correspondence ensues. Someone who has witnessed her extreme reaction in the museum contacts her through email, and she is offered a job: to track down the missing pieces of a 15th-century adventurer's collection of Indian sculptures. Her employer, Niccolo Conti - curiously of the same name as the explorer - insists on communicating solely through the computer. Who is he? Why does he want to communicate only through email?

Curiouser and curiouser.

Like her first encounter with Shiva, Sara surprises herself by willingly accepting the job. Hereon unfolds a beautiful love story of a young Venetian adventurer and his beautiful Indian wife; and out of his love for her, his quest to reunite the pieces of a vast collection of some 40 mystical Indian sculptures that they had acquired in their travels across Persia, India and China.

Through all this, we witness Sara as she travels the world tracking down these sculptures. She finds herself doing the unusual, at loggerheads with an equally persistent group of rival collectors from the Vatican. Slowly, she is transformed from a mousy art conservator, to a gutsy woman who finds herself, her voice, and love.

The illustrations are an integral part of the narrative. Like Griffin and Sabine, the story is told through the exchange of correspondence and personal diary entries. This not only lent a tactile experience, but also gave me the thrill of finding something out, sort of like peeking into someone's old love letters! But unlike Griffin and Sabine, this book accomplishes this mainly through the exchange of emails! The same tactile feeling remains with old yellowed and singed letters written in calligraphy, pages from art gallery catalogs, and beautiful collages of old photos, stamps, and maps. This is the trademark of a Nick Bantock book, and the reason why I absolutely love them!

I am intrigued by how Bantock so deftly weaves art, history, and Hindu mysticism into the storyline. In their own right fascinating; as a combination, even moreso. More subtlely, Bantock touches upon  sexuality and sensuality! Yes, this is actually an homage to sensuality in all its glory!

As for Sara, her character resonates with me. She reminds me of Steve Martin's Mirabelle in Shopgirl -  the insecurity, the unsureness and yet with a burning desire to find meaning and a passion in life. I found her transformation endearing, particularly as she slowly gained confidence in being true to herself and her feelings, and embracing life for all its worth.

Verdict: For the art lover, the mystery lover, and the lover of love stories.

First line: The year is 1496.

Last line: Then to a rattle of thunder, and enveloped in lightning's brilliance, Yasoda, celestial handmaiden to Parvati, rejoined me after over five hundred years of forced separation.

Listen to an interview about The Venetian's wife with the author here:

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall