The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato
Novels with a strong sense of place are always attractive to me, and the most attractive of all are those set in Italy. I can’t get enough of them – the romance, the passion, the art and architecture, the food. But absolutely top of the list are those set in Venice at the trading heart of the renaissance world, so The Glassblower of Murano, the alluringly titled debut novel by Marina Fiorato wasn’t going to languish at the bottom of my to be read pile. Was it worth promoting?
Yes … Like many novels these days it seems, there are parallel strands – weaving a modern day story with a historical one. Usually one strand is more interesting than the other, and this is no exception; but unlike Labyrinth by Kate Mosse say, where the contemporary strand was superfluous and detracted from the historical one, this novel nearly pulls it off.
Newly single Nora runs off to Venice to find herself and her family history in the glassblowing trade, where she meets and falls for Alessandro, a policeman. So far, so resonant of a younger version of Miss Garnet’s Angel by Sally Vickers. But Leonora, to give her full name, is herself a skilled craftswoman and artist and does have Venetian heritage. She persuades a ‘fornace’ to take her on as a glass-blowing apprentice – causing age-old rivalries to resurface between her and Roberto, from the line of her ancestor’s greatest rival.
Back in the 17th century, her ancestor, Corradino, the glassblower of the title, is Murano’s greatest exponent of making Venetian mirrors much coveted the world over. The Murano glassblowers are the best in the world, with rivalry between themselves also, and their techniques and trade secrets are so prized and guarded by the Venetians, they are rarely allowed off the island. Thus Corradino rarely gets to see his secret daughter from a liaison with a noblewoman who died in childbirth.
However when he is offered the lure of being reunited fully with his daughter and to escape to France to furnish what will become the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, he can’t resist. He is constantly watched by members of ‘The Ten’ – the Venetian guild of assasins, so the only way they can get him away is to fake his death – like Juliet – with a potion … The two stories converge as Leonora tries to clear his name of the betrayal and heal the rift at the fornace.
We learn just the right amount about glassblowing and the potentially deadly process of silvering the mirrors with mercury. The author, a Shakespearean scholar, pays her debt to him, but I would have liked to find out more about ‘The Ten’ who stalked Corradino and ultimately collect their debt when he returns to Venice one last time. I enjoyed the historical stand more than the contemporary, yet they did entwine nicely by the end. This was an entertaining and romantic read. ****
P.S. My Dad has just told me that Daphne Du Maurier wrote a novel set during the French Revolution called The Glass Blowers. It sounds good – I may have to check that out!
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Glassblower of Muranoby Marina Fiorato, Beautiful Books, paperback.
The Glass-Blowers (VMC) by Daphne DuMaurier, VMC paperback.