The Man Who Was Loved

Written by Kay MacCauley
Review by Sally Zigmond

There’s something about Venice that defies conventional description and so does this enigmatic novel. Not so much a novel, it’s more a literary evocation of the continual shifting relationship between love, life and death. Kay MacCauley has the power to draw us into a different world and keep us enthralled.

There is a narrative of sorts. We first meet Marin, as an abandoned infant, drifting between life and death in a Venice orphanage. He is then ‘rescued’ by one of the nuns who believes he’s her own dead child re-incarnated and so begins Marin’s strange life. He grows into a beautiful youth but who exactly is he? Just as Death is portrayed as a genial shape-shifter who pushes his stinking handcart through the alleys and piazzas of the city, so Marin is not his own person but someone who reminds everyone he meets of someone they once loved and lost. When plague comes to the city and dead fish wash up to shore in their hundreds, the citizens seek a saviour. Could he be Marin? Yet he himself feels adrift from humanity, adrift from his own identity as he observes the comings and goings of those around him; fishermen, spice merchants, jugglers, beggars, rich, poor, sacred and profane. Sometimes he is destitute. At others he lives in luxury. But wherever he is and whatever he does, danger is never far away. Things can change as quickly as the rising tides.

MacCauley writes like a profane angel. Sensuous and evocative, 16th century Venice, with its decadent beauty and decay, soon gets under the skin. If I had any criticism it is its richness that threatens mental indigestion. But then this is a novel to savour and not gobble up. Whether it means something or nothing at all matters not. Let it surround you and draw you to your own conclusions.

This is a stunning debut by a new writer and a new literary publisher. I expect more great things from both in the future.