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Secrecy [Hardcover]

Rupert Thomson
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Mar 2013
It is Florence, 1691. The Renaissance is long gone, and the city is a dark, repressive place, where everything is forbidden and anything is possible. The Enlightenment may be just around the corner, but knowledge is still the property of the few, and they guard it fiercely. Art, sex and power - these, as always, are the obsessions. Facing serious criminal charges, Gaetano Zummo is forced to flee his native Siracusa at the age of twenty, first to Palermo, then Naples, but always has the feeling that he is being pursued by his past, and that he will never be free of it. Zummo works an artist in wax. He is fascinated by the plague, and makes small wooden cabinets in which he places graphic, tortured models of the dead and dying. But Cosimo III, Tuscany's penultimate Medici ruler, gives Zummo his most challenging commission yet, and as he tackles it his path entwines with that of the apothecary's daughter Faustina, whose secret is even more explosive than his. Poignant but paranoid, sensual yet chilling, Secrecy is a novel that buzzes with intrigue and ideas. It is a love story, a murder mystery, a portrait of a famous city in an age of austerity, an exercise in concealment and revelation, but above all it is a trapdoor narrative, one story dropping unexpectedly into another, the ground always slippery, uncertain...

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Granta; First Edition edition (7 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847081630
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847081636
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 293,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rupert Thomson is the author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including The Insult, which was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, and Death of a Murderer, which was shortlisted for the Costa Prize.
His sixth novel, The Book of Revelation, was made into a feature film in 2006 by the Australian writer/director, Ana Kokkinos.
In 2010 he published a memoir, This Party's Got to Stop, which won the Writers' Guild Non-Fiction Book of the Year.
His new novel, Secrecy, is inspired by the life and work of the unique, eccentric Sicilian wax artist, Gaetano Giulio Zumbo. Reviewing Secrecy in the Financial Times, AN Wilson described the novel as "chillingly brilliant and sinister...masterly", while the Daily Mail called it "bewitching...intensely atmospheric...superb."
Rupert Thomson lived in Barcelona from 2004 to 2010, but he has now returned to London.

Product Description


'A novel rich as the past it conjures up, weaving a story as playful and disturbing as the strange wax sculptures that its hero gives life to.' --Sarah Dunant

'Thomson's novels have met with a remarkable uniformity of critical acclaim... Delivered via Thomson's habitual Rolls-Royce prose, Secrecy builds to a page-turning climax' -Guardian

'This is a book that scores top marks for atmosphere, for the way in which the smell, and look , of pre-18th century Florence is conveyed, for the cinematic sense of menace that lurks round every street corner, every candle-lit arras, and every formal garden. The description of the method by which Zummo works for 30 hours to take a plaster cast of the corpse, and the depiction of the final object, with its own hair, and glass eyes from Murano, is chillingly brilliant and sinister. A superb depiction of a pre-Enlightenment world, shimmering with superstitions, repression, and incomprehension, and a plot that really is masterly.' --Financial Times

'Rupert Thomson's bewitching narrative is suffused with the stuff of dreams and nightmares. It's also intensely atmospheric, and Thomson is as superb on changes of light and weather as he is on Florence's architectural gems.' -Daily Mail

'An impressive historical adventure written in an accomplished prose ... Thomson excels in suggesting a strong sense of place ... He is also determinedly inventive, succeeding in finding new ways to describe weather, nature, and the workings of the human mind ... this is a rich and intriguing work by a writer in command of his material. There is a pleasurable phrase to be found on every page.' --Literary Review

'Scene after scene trembles with breath-stopping tension on the edge of bliss or dread. No one else writes quite like this in Britain today. Newcomers to his work who open this box of secrets will hurry to snatch others from the shelf.' --Independent

'Thomson richly and compellingly imagines the life of the Sicilian wax sculptor Gaetano Zummo ... [it is] in his eye for the gothic and uncanny that Thomson excels.' -Sunday Times

'Like a luxurious art-house film, seducing you with its beautifully paced, beautifully framed images ... If this easy, elegant prose is nothing more than surface, then it is gratifying that Secrecy also has depths, even chasms ... I don t doubt there is research here, but it is Thomson s subconscious that rules the past in this book, and I bend the knee before it.' --Independent on Sunday

'Thomson transcends genre pretty effortlessly. He doesn't scrimp on the many satisfactions of a historical novel and he provides an unstintingly gripping thriller plot into the bargain. But what lifts Secrecy to a more rarefied level altogether is the visionary imagination that overlays the scrupulously worked structures those genres demand. It informs the brilliance of Thomson's characterisation, from the morbid monomania of a tormented Cosimo, to the brutish, coiled savagery of the Dominican enforcer Stufa, to the ghostly sadness of a neglected child. Along with a particular poetic gift for laying the exquisite alongside the visceral, it enables him to evoke Florence's peculiarly sinister magic to perfection, and to thread together the real, the historical and the purely imagined with such loving attention that I defy readers to see the join. Indeed, the join becomes irrelevant.' --Guardian

'Thomson's writing is pitch-perfect here. His prose is as clear and limpid as water, his ear finely attuned to the timbre of the period though mercifully free from archaisms, his characters drawn with subtlety and wit. The details are pin-sharp, but sparing enough not to weigh down the story. Instead, there is a mesmerising quality to the unfolding of the narratives and a sense of ellipsis that keeps it hovering on the t --Hampshire Society

Another spellbinder in prose, Rupert Thomson with Secrecy proved that he can evoke the past with all the eerie and sinister panache of his contemporary fiction. --'Books of the Year' chosen by Boyd Tonkin, Independent

With Secrecy [Rupert Thomson] has hit the spot. --Hampshire Society

About the Author

Rupert Thomson is the author of eight highly acclaimed novels: Dreams of Leaving, The Five Gates of Hell, Air & Fire, The Insult, Soft, The Book of Revelation, Divided Kingdom and most recently, Death of a Murderer, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel of the Year Award and by World Book Day for the Book to Talk About 2008. His memoir, This Party's Got to Stop, also published by Granta, won him the Writers' Guild Non-Fiction Award. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get me to a candle shop 26 Mar 2013
I was seventeen when I first read a Rupert Thomson book. I'd just failed my driving test and was mooching around Smith's looking for something to take the edge off. In the Contemporary Fiction aisle (whatever happened to that?) I saw a book with a can of Tango on the front, and `SOFT' in fuzzy orange capitals. I skipped to the back: a bloke stalled his car. That'll do, I thought.

Since then I've read everything Thomson's written. No-one does unusual like this man, and his eight very different novels (and one autobiography, best read after The Five Gates of Hell for maximum impact) draw you into a reality underneath what your eyes see. I've enjoyed his books dozens of times but sometimes agree with the critics: his plots can meander. Not Secrecy. Thomson's thought this one through, and has pieced together a brilliantly taut story set in murky post-Renaissance Italy.

If historical fiction isn't your thing then Secrecy is the book to convert you. We follow Zummo, a real-life wax sculptor who fetches up in Florence on a commission from the Grand Duke. These are dark times: people get lashed for flirting; famine's ravaged the country, and psychotic monks stalk the streets dispensing justice like Judge Dredd with bibles. The cryptic, exotic alleyways are a maze for our hero, who's forever looking over his shoulder, waiting for his past to catch up with him, falling in love, stumbling into a royal conspiracy...

In the three years since This Party's Got To Stop it's easy to see what Thomson's been up to: research. Secrecy's dazzling accounts of casting wax could get you an apprenticeship at Madam Tussauds, and Thomson's calling card - vivid descriptions of the world around us - fly off of every page.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Waxing lyrical. 23 April 2013
By Sue Kichenside TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is an elegantly written tale of secrecy, lies and scandal. Set in late 17th century Florence, between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, it is a dark period of the city's history and the Office of Public Decency is not short of spies to ensure that anyone caught having fun is made to suffer most hideously.

Zummo, the creator of exquisite but gruesome plague scenes sculpted in wax, is unquestionably an artist for his times. "Not without foundation was it sometimes said of me that I had studied anatomy in more detail than was strictly necessary for a sculptor."

Summoned to Florence by the Grand Duke, he is commissioned to make a very special sculpture - it must be kept a secret between the two of them. Within his sculpture, Zummo plans to hide some secrets of his own but by this time he has made the mistake of falling in love...

The character of Zummo is based on Baroque sculptor of curiosities, Gaetano Zumbo, and the author has him quote another artist of the Baroque period, Salvator Rosa: "Either remain silent, or speak better than silence." Rupert Thomson does just that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Hello Rupert old love, Radio 4 here...' 22 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Rupert Thomson wrote recently in one of the colour supps about his difficulties in holding his head above water financially (even though he manages to afford a London-based studio to write in), so perhaps it's no surprise that in his latest novel this idiosyncratic and offbeat writer has moved decidedly towards the mainstream. In `Secrecy' a `mysterious, controversial' sculptor of wax tableaux is secretly commissioned by the Grand Duke of a repressive and violent eighteenth century Florence to create a figure of an ideal woman...and thus follows intrigues and revelations, studly young grooms servicing countesses, malevolent priests, murdered girls with strange symbols carved on their skin and yes that is a pot you can hear boiling.
The very mention of the city of Florence has Radio 4 producers loosening their cravats and the book, strong on art and mildly salacious, is tailor-made for that station's audience of Chianti-swilling, Retriever-owning lovers of 'Culture': 'Secrecy' was recently broadcast as a 'Book at Bedtime'. It's not all bad news for Thomson fans however. His gifts for striking imagery are still much in evidence, 'Outside, the rain was slanting down like vicious pencil strokes, as if the bleak landscape...was a mistake that somebody was crossing out,' and his sense of the both the macabre (there's a terrific dismemberment scene) and the liminal (a theme in the book, though not a particularly well developed one) is still strong. The novel, particularly in the use of wax in art, is convincingly researched.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning ; Thomson's most compelling book yet... 28 Mar 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Secrecy is more of an experience than a simply a compulsive read. Thomson so consummately inhabits his characters, particularly that of his wax sculptor Zummo, but also his darker, more sinister creations, that one could almost compare him to a method actor in the thoroughness of his psychological quest for authenticity. The reader is transported to a little known world of shadows where all is not as it seems, and despite the 'otherness' of Zummo's oeuvre, depicting in wax contorted figures in extremis suffering from plague, and suspended between life and death, we nonetheless easily identify with his fears, love where he loves, and dream his dreams (and his nightmares). In a talk which Thomson gave at the recent Oxford Literary Festival the author confessed to feeling some compassion for all his characters, and this fleshes out even the more fleeting and minor players so that we feel intimately connected.

His skill lies in drawing us into this landscape of Florence in the late 17th century with the brutality and corruption so tangible we can smell and feel it, and yet ensuring we don't want to be wrenched out of it. It is like being under a spell, or immersed in a film we can't forget. The themes of 'secrecy' are so intricately threaded through the story that we uncover them in layers, like rummaging through a chest of treasures to discover now jewels, now clods of earth.

The book is crafted with the detailed and painstaking skill of a true artist, yet Thomson's words are light on the page, his metaphors memorable and astonishing, and the story fast paced. You will reach the conclusion of this part love story, part historical novel, part puzzle and want to begin again - such will be the sense of loss in finishing it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow!
An amazing book, it is not like anything I have ever read before! It was really interesting to read about Florence at this time in history, and Zummo is an amazing character;... Read more
Published 1 month ago by StarryNight
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent and gripping
great story and great writing - unusual protagonist who you fall in with, strangely - good story - perhaps we dwell on the exigencies of the writing itself but it's good so i do... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Leslie Gardner
3.0 out of 5 stars not quite sure
I wanted to finish this book to see what happened and because it had good reviews, but it just wasn't for me. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Hetty Pops
5.0 out of 5 stars A historical drama
Really enjoyed this historical tale set in Italy in the late 1600's. So well written that at times I thought I was there and could smell the wood smoke! Read more
Published 4 months ago by Kevin
2.0 out of 5 stars Lovely prose. dull story. no characters you could love....
What was he doing with this? Trying to be Umberto Eco? Dull, not very evocative, weak characters you didn't really feel for. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Old Nick
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping!
Really good gripping Florentine adventure. Good writing style. Good ending! Totally recommend. Will be looking at other books by this author now.
Published 6 months ago by H. J. Netting
4.0 out of 5 stars At least I'll remember the ending this time
I find Rupert Thomson's writing in general to be spellbinding. He seems to have a way with words that paints a picture of an intriguing world that I don't quite live in. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ms. J. Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing and exciting novel.
Cloak and dagger with art and aristocracy. History, family, passion and secrecy all wonderfully blended together by Rupert Thomson. Excellent.
Published 6 months ago by P Cochrane
1.0 out of 5 stars Overwritten & Overlong
When you remove the padding of "fine writing" you are left with a thin plot that too often relies on coincidence, a drawn out ordinary story and flat characters.
Published 7 months ago by cookingapple
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what I had expected
I found this story unexpectedly macabre and the plot was difficult to follow. I became impatient with it and, although it is beautifully written, had a struggle to finish it.
Published 8 months ago by Patricia C.
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