The Lost Diary of Venice
Margaux DeRoux’s debut novel, The Lost Diary of Venice, weaves together two stories of forbidden love. In contemporary New Haven, William, a married artist, and Rose, a book restorer, fall for each other. In 1571 Venice, the duo is Chiara, a courtesan with a powerful patron, and Gio, an artist commissioned to paint her portrait. Their stories meet when William brings a palimpsest to Rose for restoration. The surface reads as Gio’s treatise on art. As the undertext of the palimpsest is revealed, so are secrets that Gio and Chiara share only with each other.
The relationship between red-haired, green-eyed, virginal-ish Rose and the handsome William will indulge lovers of category romance, with lots of blushing and mental daisy-petal-picking. Fortunately, Rose’s emotional reserve and the complexities of William’s attitude toward his marriage don’t allow the reader to coast to a predictable Happily-Ever-After resolution.
DeRoux does a good job of interweaving the love stories; the weaving in of historical events and places is a bit looser. The 1571 Battle of Lepanto, which pitted European powers against the Ottoman Empire, provides a historical backdrop and some important plot points, yet the gritty scenes set on Cyprus, the object of the struggle, read like fragments from another book. More important, Venice does not feel like Venice. For example, when visiting his patron, Gio arrives on foot and knocks on the front door of a “great house set back some distance from the avenue,” rather than set on a canal, or at least on a campo or calle.
Overall, sumptuous prose and a wealth of fascinating, if over-ambitious, historical threads make The Lost Diary of Venice an enjoyable read, while the well-paced conceal and reveal of the palimpsest keep curiosity alive and the pages turning.