Top positive review
A vision of Venice
on 21 July 2016
A work of synthesis and integration as Peter Ackroyd reads everything that has been written about Venice rather than uncovering new sources or conducting original research, but what he adds to the material is a poet's imagination in making metaphorical connections which colour his - and our - view of this version of Venice.
This is often more like a collection of thematic essays rather than a linear 'biography' of the city: some of it is relatively well-known - the Venice of the nuns and courtesans, the masked balls, the slavery, banking and trade of nascent capitalism; but there are nice illuminating moments too.
Some of the connections can feel a bit forced - Venice is both parsimonious and lavish, according to which idea Ackroyd needs in the moment; both conservative and radically innovative; both patriarchal and allowing women an unprecedented freedom. And my biggest criticism is that there is a defiance of a sense of historicism here as we whizz from the sixteenth- to the nineteenth century often in a single sentence: as if Venice is timeless, somehow outside of time, always the same despite the changes in the world outside.
All the same, this is a gloriously pleasurable read: a book that has absorbed a lot of information and reconstituted it via Ackroyd's vision.