- Stone, Irving — The Agony and the Ecstasy (439 of 763 pages)
- Morpurgo, Michael — The Mozart Question (68 pages)
- Unsworth, Barry — Stone Virgin (312 pages)
- Page count
When I learned I would be performing in Venice, I searched online for books set there, as I like to do location-appropriate reading when I travel. Unsworth's book was recommended, and since I was just finishing up a book about a sculptor it seemed fitting to start another. It wasn't until after I got into the novel that I noticed, coincidentally, that "Stone Virgin" is an anagram of "Irving Stone." Talk about a següe!
The story revolves around a sculpture in stone of the Virgin at the Annunciation by an obscure fifteenth century sculptor. The novel is bookended with this sculptor's journal entries as he awaits execution (unjustly, he claims) for the murder of the prostitute he hired as a model and fell in love with. Then the narrative alternates between two strands, set in different time periods, illustrating the sculpture's curious influence on those who come within its sphere. The principal strand takes place in the twentieth century as an art restorer from London is sent to Venice to restore this sculpture and tries to unravel its mysterious past. His work brings him into contact with other restorers — there's a major Tintoretto renovation project ongoing — and other personalities in the art world, including a crucial entanglement with the alluring wife of a well-known but reclusive bronze sculptor. The other strand shows an eighteenth century former dandy concluding his memoirs with a story of marital infidelity revolving around the stone Virgin. In all three centuries, variations of the same theme get played over again, with only the modern version seemingly breaking the cycle in the end.
It's an interesting concept, but it did at times smack of literary gimmick. The story is at times fascinating, at other times tedious. It was interesting enough that I was compelled to finish it, yet ultimately I found there was nothing particularly remarkable about it. I do think it was a good book to have brought to Venice with me, though, as it does an effective job of evoking the spirit of that city.