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The Floating Book: A Novel of Venice    by Michelle Lovric order for
Floating Book
by Michelle Lovric
Order:  USA  Can
Regan, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

The Floating Book, Michelle Lovric's debut novel, won the London Arts Writer's Award. The story is set in 1468 Venice, with a myriad of characters connected in some way to the first printing of books in that city. Two German brothers, Wendelin and Johann von Speyer, make the pilgrimage to the romantic and seemingly haunted city of Venice, where they introduce the concept of moveable type and the ability to print books. This ignites a cultural revolution.

Meanwhile, a dark and mysteriously attractive Dalmatian woman named Sosia Simeon traipses through the city with one goal in mind: to bed as many Venetians as she can get her hands on. Sosia is married to a Jewish doctor named Rabino Simeon, whom the Venetians hold in grudging respect for his medical talents and humanitarian ways. However, Sosia is blind to (or uncaring of) Rabino's assets; she ignores him and blatantly carries on purely sexual relationships with several men. One is Bruno Uguccione, a handsome editor employed by the German printers. Bruno loves Sosia intensely, but she cannot be bothered by anything other than a sheer physical relationship on her own terms. Sosia sets her sights on several other men, including Felice Feliciano. He is known as a charismatic and influential scribe, but has a rather perverse and disturbing nature, to which Sosia is inexplicably drawn.

As competition between printers increases and carving out a living becomes more difficult, Wendelin von Speyer takes the advice of his Venetian wife Lussieta to publish erotic poems by the young, lovesick Roman poet Catullus. These poems take Venice by storm. They seem to ignite the city, enrage the church, and enthrall many Venetians, whose lives are changed as a result. Lovric opens chapters with verses by Catullus. His love for Clodia, whom he refers to as Lesbia in his poems, mirrors Bruno's obsession for Sosia. We also are given a bird's eye view of Wendelin von Speyer's marriage to his beautiful wife Lussieta, and we watch their struggles as Wendelin tries to keep the German-born printing house alive under the reproachful and critical eyes of Venetians.

Lovric weaves a fascinating, lush tale. The city of Venice is almost a character itself and appears to live and breathe as the story's real personalities evolve. Lovric does a superb job of developing her characters and maintaining a steady flow to the story and its various plots and sub-plots. I found myself equally interested in each individual and each facet of this intricate tale, and heartily recommend The Floating Book to anyone who loves historical fiction.

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