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Peter Ackroyd is the author of Thames, London: The Biography, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, several successful novels, and the Ackroyd's Brief Lives series. Simon Vance, a former BBC Radio presenter and newsreader, is a full-time actor who has appeared on both stage and television. He has recorded over eight hundred audiobooks and has earned five coveted Audie Awards, and he has won fifty-seven Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which has named him a Golden Voice.
Italo Calvino once wrote, "Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice." Maybe that's why Ackroyd's new book is more enjoyable than his recent Thames: The Biography. Nonetheless, it's more a string of essays than one coherent book. Ackroyd interweaves history with impressions (some quite apposite) on a host of topics about living in Venice: the light and color, Carnival, prisons, prostitutes, death, the Venetian republic's extraordinarily long existence, artists, and the claustrophobic life of the city. He writes exceptionally well at points: he's always been a master of the apercu, and his comments on Venetian art and architecture in particular are perceptive though by no means original. His sources are often vague or missing altogether. He errs twice, calling Philippe de Commynes "an ambassador from fifteenth-century Flanders" and "a traveler from the court of Burgundy," when, by 1495, the year Commynes visited Venice, Commynes had served France, not Burgundy, for 23 years. Perhaps it's a minor error, but it leads one to wonder what others lie hidden in this largely undocumented description and history of Venice. VERDICT This is a pleasant read but too formless for anything more serious. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/10.]-David Keymer, Modesto, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Novelist and biographer Ackroyd (The Canterbury Tales) provides a history of and meditation on the actual and imaginary Venice in a volume as opulent and paradoxical as the city itself. Structured and organized with a fluidity that reflects its many-faceted subject, he launches his tour de force with the basics of Venetian geography, hydrology, and climate before turning to history and architecture. The narrative continues to develop around themes both usual and unexpected such as trade and gossip or subjects such as the city's fabled churches, its love of sexuality, and theater. As it glides along, it gracefully incorporates tidbits about such traditions as the cabins on gondolas and the masks worn during Carnival. How Ackroyd deftly catalogues the overabundance of the city's real and literary tropes and touchstones is itself a kind of tribute to La Serenissima, as Venice is called, and his seductive voice is elegant and elegiac. The resulting book is, like Venice, something rich, labyrinthine and unique that makes itself and its subject both new and necessary. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A loving yet clear-eyed celebration of the enigmatic icon on the Adriatic." ---Kirkus