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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get me to a candle shop
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...
Published 17 months ago by Mr. G Bass

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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...'
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'...
Published 2 months ago by annwiddecombe


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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get me to a candle shop, 26 Mar 2013
By 
This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
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. He uses words like snipers, gets the jump on you at least once a paragraph, and by the time you reach the point when the cover makes sense has already dropped a series of revelations like rocks pushed off a cliff. One sequence in particular shows his power to conjure tension, when the teenage Faustina, believing she's a witch, mixes up a flying potion for herself and a friend...

This last bit I was lucky enough to hear out loud when Thomson did a reading at the uni up the road from me. Straight away I knew Secrecy would go beyond his watermark, and now that I've finished it I'm certain it's one of his best (if not the best). Worth every long minute of the three year wait, Secrecy is a novel that will hopefully get Thomson the awards and word of mouth he deserves. Read it and enjoy - if more people wrote as well as this bloke, we'd all be walking around with our heads dipped down in books instead of texting.
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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 - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
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
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This review is from: Secrecy (Paperback)
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. But often the narrative seems to consist of little more than the somewhat blank narrator, Zummo, (the aforementioned sculptor), going out, bumping into the book's other characters and listening as they relate their backstories (most of which have no bearing on the plot) and then clunkily hint at revelations to come. This method reaches a risible peak when Zummo first has sex with Faustina, a girl he purports to be in love with (' the liquid inside her rose to meet my fingertip' he tells us charmlessly),: as they lie post coitally staring at the `limitless' sky (the sky is endlessly described in `Secrecy'), she tells him how she was raped as a child, before moving quickly on to exclaim, 'What if I said I was in danger?' Perhaps more damagingly, the book promises far more than it delivers, as if Thomson, having agreed to get into bed with this particular genre, has then mimsily refused to take off his pants.
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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
By 
Jacqueline Lomax (Oxford.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Secrecy, 13 Oct 2013
By 
Champollion (Shropshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
"Secrecy,"is a an intriguing and spellbinding novel which captures your attention from the start and brings you into the world of Zummo,( based on Gaetano Zumbo a Sicilian wax artist.) a fifteenth century wax sculptor in the brilliant setting of seventeenth century Florence.

The tale is rich in detail, beautifully painted, expertly structured and plotted to produce an entirely satisfying story, which makes you think long after you have finished the book.

Told in the first person, we see life in Florence and you can taste the food, smell the pleasant , not so pleasant and experience the machinations of life in the Ducal court, who commissions a 'special work ' from the resourceful Zummo. He falls in love with the beautiful apothecary's daughter, Faustina, who, like Zummo, has secrets of her own and this act in itself brings danger.

Multi-layered, with surprises at every turn, Rupert Thompson has written not just an historical thriller but a tapestry of detail set against an earthy background of Italian court politics. From the sinister and brutal Stufa to the wily Bassetti , the book kept me enthralled throughout.

This is a story to savour and could well be a classic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Close to perfection, 13 April 2013
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This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
Thomson has always been one of my favourite authors, but with Secrecy he reaches a new height

Secrecy has multiple layers , often with mirrored themes , the details of Zummo's work and 17th century Florence perfectly compliment the narratives revealed within the wider story.

Themes that are common in other work by Thomson are on show here, the separation from a family unit key to the origin of the story
.

The words near skip off the page, this read is highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History and Mystery, 7 Sep 2013
By 
Louise Ward (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
Rupert Thomson, the author of this most excellent novel Secrecy has passed completely under my radar. It's always exciting to find an author you like and Thomson's writing is sublime. His bibliography is wide; the author of nine novels. The fourth The Insult was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize, his sixth The Book of Revelation was made into a film and Death of a Murderer (2007) was shortlisted for Costa Novel of the Year. His foray into non-fiction with his memoir This Party's Got To Stop won him the Writer's Guild Non-Fiction Book of the Year. So with all that going on how have I missed him!?
Thomson studied Medieval History at Cambridge and he draws on his historical expertise in the telling of this story which is based on the life of the Sicilian wax artist, Gaetano Zumbo. Zumbo is famed for his plague pieces, wooden cabinets containing wax creations of the dead and dying which can still be seen in particular in the scientific museum La Specola in Florence.
Set in Florence, this novel is about Zummo's wax art works but it is primarily about his relationships- with his family, with his patron the Grand Duke, with a young boy who assists him and with his lover. In fact, although Zummo is a very solitary man when he works, his life touches many people and Thomson weaves this mysterious story with his rich and evocative prose. The descriptions are always enough to conjure an image, sometimes exquisite and sometimes painful, but never too much to take away from the tale he is telling, never too much to distract from the character we are following, Zummo, as he finds his place and works to establish relationships to hold him there, only to often have them questioned or pulled out from under his feet often due to his identity as a Sicilian in Florence.
The descriptions of the techniques used to create the wax artworks are fascinating in themselves. But it is the characters that hold the story together so well, maintaining the readers interest right to the close of the story, still uncertain of how it will end. A well written historical novel, alive with the sights and sounds of seventeenth century Italy and the rotten smell of corruption.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exquisite novel..., 8 Jun 2013
This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
I fell in love with this book after only a few pages. Thomson's writing is exquisite, succinctly capturing mood, moment and character, with a handful of immaculately chosen words. For me, reading this novel was like climbing into a darkly-gleaming literary limo, stocked with tiny, but highly potent, bottles of emotional and metaphysical nitroglycerin in its minibar. Every couple of pages, I was floored, my brain's logic centers trying to understand how one man's use of words could have such a profound effect upon me.

The excellent plot, sense of menace and simmering court intrigue in 17th century Florence have already been well outlined by previous reviewers. His main characters are beautifully drawn, the dialogue incisive and real. But I was utterly entranced also by his other characters. Oh, how I felt for the Grand Duke in his loveless marriage to a woman he adored! I smiled, every time, at kooky young Fiore with her Lady Gaga-esque hair-stylings, and hoped Cuif, the washed-up jester working tirelessly toward his big comeback, like some modern day disgraced TV celeb following a tabloid sex/drug scandal, would somehow get his mojo back. And those are only my top three out of a truly mighty supporting cast.

Regarding a previous comment regarding the novel's structure: it took me a very long time to notice that there were no chapters in the main body of the narrative. So hooked, was I, on what was unfolding so elegantly and so fluidly before me. Chapters? Entirely unnecessary here.

This is the first Rupert Thomson book I've read, but I'm now full of anticipation at delving into any of his past and future work. He's an excellent writer. Secrecy is an astonishing, mesmerising book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual, nicely written and atmospheric, 8 Jun 2013
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This review is from: Secrecy (Kindle Edition)
I liked this much more than I expected to. It is sort of historic but not really so and it has none of the leaden obviousness which you get with the Hilary Mantel type of stuff (although it is heretical to say that these days). The main character is fascinating as is his relationship with the levers of power and a mysterious girl. The other thing is that Rupert Thomson writes really well - descriptions that you stopped and re-read because they were so good or out of the ordinary. And, finally, there is a slippery metaphorical waxiness which links the style and the story but you'll have to read it to get that. Great for holiday reading because the sense of a foreign place is so good.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Page-turning quality, 14 Mar 2013
This review is from: Secrecy (Hardcover)
I picked this up after seeing a few reviews and the Guardian profile piece last weekend. Once I got started I just couldn't stop - there is atmosphere in spades, a compellingly intricate labyrinthine plot and typically beautiful Thomson prose. I thoroughly recommend.
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Secrecy
Secrecy by Rupert Thomson (Hardcover - 7 Mar 2013)
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