'1527. While the Papal city of Rome burns - brutally sacked by an invading army including Protestant heretics - two of her most interesting and wily citizens slip away, their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed as the enemy breaks down their doors. Though almost as damaged as their bellowed city, Fiammetta Bianchini and Bucino Teodoldi - a fabulous courtesan and her dwarf companion - are already planning their future. They head for the shimmering beauty of Venice, a honey pot of wealth and trade where they start to rebuild their business. As a partnership they are invincible: Bucino, clever with a sharp eye and a wicked tongue and Fiammetta, beautiful and shrewd, trained from birth to charm, entertain and satisfy men who have the money to support her. Venice, however, is a city which holds its own temptations. From the admiring Turk in search of human novelties for his Sultan's court, to the searing passion of a young lover who wants more than his allotted nights. But the greatest challenge comes from a young blind woman, a purveyor of health and beauty, who insinuates her way into their lives and hearts with devastating consequences for them all.
First published 2006.
'There is no more accomplished guide to Renaissance Italy than Sarah Dunant. After taking us to Florence in The Birth of Venus, she moves on to Venice with In the Company of the Courtesan . . . Dunant has a sharp eye for the tawdry attractions of the carnal canal city, and a keen nose for hypocrisy, especially in the Church. . . Dunant creates a large cast of vivid characters, none more so than La Draga, the blind healer, whose fate provides the novel's climax. . .This is an enthralling novel that will give the reader as much pleasure as Fiammetta does her clients' Michael Arditti, Daily Mail 'In the Company of the Courtesan demonstrates again Dunant's fascination with Renaissance Italy. The novel is avidly researched, but Dunant adds life to the 'true' story through her colourful characters. Most interesting is the sexual politics of the time, particularly the presentation of the daily habits of a courtesan, a lifestyle fuelled by greed and pleasure' Claudia Webb, Financial Times 'The backdrop is the real success. Historical and geographical details are used sparingly and the effect is lovely. Almost in passing, we discover that Fiametta is the model for Titian's sensual Venus of Urbino. Venice's glassmaking features in a jewel forgery, in a mirror merchant's gift to Fiammetta and in a strange twist involving an early form of contact lens. . .Vibrancy is achieved without the heroes becoming caricatures in a cartoon Renaissance . . .Her knack for drawing such satisfying yarns from the canals and cattedrali means it could be a long time before her readers tire of her' Alice Fordham, The Times 'In the Company of the Courtesan is set just decades after Dunant's phenomenally successful The Birth of Venus. . . Once again, the author's phenomenal attention to detail is present throughout. This book is vividly atmospheric, mesmerising the reader into feeling right at home in 16th-century Venice. Bucino makes for a strong but tragic narrator. Page after page, he draws the reader into Venice's seamy underworld. The pace of the novel snowballs towards the end, leaving the reader feeling satisfied, but hungry for more from his talented storyteller' Daily Express 'Dunant's last novel, The Birth of Venus, was a delight, a full-blooded, unsqueamish tale of Florence under Savonarola. In the Company of the Courtesan shares its impeccable research and wonderful tone: saucy without being addle-brained; jaundiced without being sour . . . this is good ribald fun' Patrick Ness, Daily Telegraph 'Sarah Dunant's gorgeous novel...This is the best kind of historical novel. Ms Dunant never makes the common mistake of describing as surprising factual details that would have been ordinary to contemporaries ...her story blends beauty and brutality into an intimate and thrilling portrait of an age' Lisa Hilton, Sunday Telegraph 'A superb portrayal of Renaissance Italy that's not to be missed' Fanny Blake in 'Great Reading' - feature: 'We love.. ' Woman & Home
Sarah Dunant has written eight novels, edited two books of essays and worked widely in television, radio and in print. Her most recent novel, the bestselling The Birth of Venus, has been the subject of major acclaim both here and in the United States. She lives in London and Florence.