The Venetian Mask
Originally published in 1993, this novel of Venice is set in the last quarter of the 18th century. Marietta Fontana, orphan of a Carnival mask-maker, is placed in the famous music school for girls, Ospedale della Pietà. She attracts the attention of Domenico Torrisi, head of a prominent Venetian family, whose barren wife has taken an interest in Marietta after hearing her sing. Several years later, widower Torrisi follows his late wife’s suggestion that he choose Marietta as her successor, which causes Marietta to worry that memories of his first wife may haunt their marriage. In the meantime, her Pieta friend Elena has married (unhappily) into the Celano family, archrivals of the Torrisis. When Elena bears a love-child, she gives the baby to Marietta, who has managed to conceal her simultaneous stillbirth from Torrisi. The switch gives the feud a new dimension, and it’s brought to a head when Elena’s husband trumps up charges of treason.
Laker’s descriptions and period atmosphere definitely transport the reader to a faraway, yet believable time and place. I didn’t know much about Venice’s history and came away enlightened. The main characters are well-drawn and involving, although a few plot coincidences like the baby-switching caused a raised eyebrow. Expect no deep themes or psychological insights in the story, but readers will find a highly entertaining, escape-from-the-21st-century tale.