The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith
|The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith|
|Reviewer: Denise Ramsay|
|Summary: A far from typical wartime thriller. This is beautifully written by Cruz Smith and offers the reader a surprisingly languorous journey through occupied Italy in the closing days of the Second World War.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: September 2017|
|Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK|
|External links: Author's website|
The romantic in me was immediately drawn to this book. Venice in 1945 at the close of the war is enticement enough. Add a backdrop of partisans, Mussolini and the desperate fight of the losing SS and my interest is certainly piqued, but present the aforementioned along with the mystery of a young woman found floating in the Venice Lagoon in the dead of night and resistance is futile.
The book opens with a moonless night sky over the Venice Lagoon, where we find Cenzo the fisherman awaiting his catch. A sense of dark foreboding pervades and we soon come to know why as the catch itself turns out to be the body of a girl found floating face up in the lagoon dressed only in a nightgown. A girl at first assumed dead who turns out to be the very much alive Giulia, a young Jewish woman on the run from the Wehrmacht SS stationed in Venice. Cenzo must work against his fisherman's instinct and superstition to take this woman on board his boat, the Fatima, and decide to which lengths he will go to save her.
As the story progresses the Fatima quickly becomes the hub of the drama. Here, Giulia's identity is revealed, confessions of transgressions and horrors from Cenzo and Giulia's past are made and cowardice and brevity become intertwined as these two characters cling to this modest vessel for survival. In this, the writing for me is exceptional as the boat is used to literally steer the course of the drama and the journey of the main characters through wartime resistance. By using the Fatima in such a way the overwhelming landscape of a country at war soon fades to the distance and what we are left with is the relationship between these two souls. I very much enjoyed the part of the story which follows the Fatima through the maze of the Venice Lagoon occasionally visiting the fishing village of Pellestrina and all the provincial characters I was craving. Nido in particular, as a jaded war veteran and black market trader, was a brilliant character and the hidden honour and courage he carried affected me more than some of the action between the main characters. Once the story moved to Monte Baldo and took a more traditional form of wartime thriller however, I found myself yearning for the quiet drama of the Fatima and the lagoon which I had come to feel so familiar with through the first part of the book.
The writing in this book is beautiful. The descriptions are poetic and evocative. There are points where you believe you can smell the putrid waters, gutted fish and the damp wood of Cenzo's shack. The dialogue is candid and revelatory. The resulting effect is that the story moves along seemingly gently - much like the lapping waters of the Lagoon and we as readers, are quite literally swept along. What remains though is a feeling of tension like something is waiting below the surface of the story and biding its time until we as readers are vulnerable to attack. That to my mind, is one of the successes of the book. As an author, Cruz Smith has an absolute talent for taking the reader by surprise. Just as you're settling into the lull of his beautifully descriptive and poetic prose, a crescendo that you didn't even realise was building catches your breath. Only then do we realise we have been delivered into the mouth of the drama. I think this is the gift of his writing.
From the outset Cenzo is a character clearly defined as someone without heroic intentions. A quiet respect for him builds as we watch him navigate the difficult choices of wartime with survival through the closing days his only goal. As time moves on what emerges is a portrait of a quiet man held up by resolve and resilience. By the end of the book (which I won't spoil) it is safe to say that no epic battles have been won nor clear and true victory declared. Instead what we are left with is a sense that the true fate of these two characters, Cenzo and Giulia has been quietly realised.
I loved the writing of this book and think it is a perfect read for those among us who believe they have read the best of the wartime thrillers. This was a surprising delight for me and I will look forward to reading more Cruz Smith.
If you enjoyed the Girl from Venice and the writing of Martin Cruz Smith then I highly recommend Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith which is part of his successful Arkady Renko series of thrillers.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith at Amazon.com.
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