Reviewer Janet Walker: Janet is the author of Colour To Die For, first of the Fee Weston Mystery Series. Janet lives in Australia and when she is not writing about P.I. Fee Weston's fight for truth, justice and a livable cash flow, she writes articles for magazines and fund raises for Australia's wildlife carers - heroes of the bush. For more about Janet and Fee visit Janet's WEBSITE
Author: Laura Morelli
Publisher: Laura Morelli
The setting sun casts a rosy glow over the buildings along Venice’s Grand Canal and I am sitting in a gondola, powered by a young, slim, Venetian gondolier. Actually, I’m not; I am reading Laura Morelli’s new historical novel, The Gondola Maker.
Set in 16th century Venice, other than boarding a time machine or a Boeing 747 it’s the next best thing to experience the sights, sounds, aromas and historical streetscapes of this romantic exciting city.
Luca Vianello, the main character, is the eldest son of a gondola maker. A family business, generations of Vianellos have made gondolas, their expertise and skill, well known and sought after.
Luca, who will inherit the business, is expected to continue the gondola making tradition but there is a problem: Luca and his father, Domenico, do not get on – the father’s strict discipline and constant bullying is a bitter pill for his son, on the brink of self determination, to swallow.
Lucas’ sorrow at the death of his forty-four year old mother, Donatella, in childbirth turns to raging anger – the anger directed at his father, he blames Domenico for Donatella’s death, as after giving birth to Luca’s two siblings and suffering many miscarriages she was not strong enough to bear another child.
The fight that ensues between Luca and Domenico, violent, an accidental action of Luca’s results in a disaster of epic proportion – Luca, horrified by the unexpected consequence of his confrontation with Domenico must flee or face possible criminal charges by his father or the Council that governs La Republica of Venice.
Ashamed that his actions may have destroyed the family business, Luca, frightened and confused lives rough – starving, he appeals to a family friend, Signor Fumagalli, for help. Fumagalli, who runs Venice’s most successful oarmaking business directs Luca to a charity where he is fed and given the name of a business where he finds employment as a canal porter unloading crates from gondolas which deliver cargo around Venice’s waterways.
Luca works hard and is promoted to helping with deliveries. Under the watchful eye of a gondolier, he becomes skilled at rowing and steering gondolas.
The author, Laura Morelli, has chosen first person and present tense with Luca as narrator to tell the story and it works well; bringing an engaging freshness to the narrative’s centuries old setting. The smell of varnish, paint, dampness and salty air which fills the Vianello family boatyard, the cries of street vendors and the camaraderie of gondoliers who use a secret language of hand signals to safely guide their boats through the crowded canal traffic are described with vivid, immediate detail.
Luca strikes it lucky and lands a job with a successful portrait painter, Trevisan. Employed as Trevisan’s boat man, Luca’s duties include delivering finished works of art to patrons.
Giuliana Zanchi, the stunningly beautiful daughter of a Venetian patrician family, visits Trevisan’s studio to have her portrait painted. Luca sees her leaving the studio and his life changes; besotted by her exquisite loveliness, his every waking moment is filled with thoughts of Giuliana – if only he could meet and speak with her, how wonderful that would be.
Luca reminds himself that even if this did happen, he could never reveal to Guiliana his true identity or tell her the secret behind the flight from his family home.
As it turns out Giuliana has a few secrets of her own and she enlists Luca’s help in securing for herself an independent future; one which doesn’t include an arranged marriage or life in a nunnery, the only options open for women of the Venetian patrician class in the sixteenth century.
Giuliana’s willing slave, Luca, with no regard for his own safety, does whatever she requests – not a great idea but you have to remember: he’s crazy in love. His association with Giuliana, discovered by the Venetian authorities, the future looks blacker than black for Luca.
Laura Morelli does though rescue Luca from his predicament and in some innovative exciting plot twists Luca is reunited with his family to begin a future life filled with infinite possibilities.
The Gondola Maker is much more than an exciting love story of two people from vastly different societal classes – Art historian, Laura Morelli has woven into the story of Luca’s life and love for Giuliana, a fascinating narrative of life in sixteenth century Venice, gondoliers, street vendors, the rich and poor residents of Venice all leap from the page, their joys and sorrows, an absorbing great read.
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