Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Review: The Lost Diary of Venice by Margaux DeRoux

The Lost Diary of Venice by Margaux DeRoux
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical/Contemporary Fiction
ISBN: 9781984819482
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Two impossible love stories are fatefully connected by one artistic legacy in a stunning debut that leaps between the mysteries of late-Renaissance Venice and the dramas of present-day America.

In the wake of her father’s death, Rose Newlin finds solace in her work as a book restorer. Then, one rainy Connecticut afternoon, a struggling painter appears at her door. William Lomazzo brings with him a sixteenth-century treatise on art, which Rose quickly identifies as a palimpsest: a document written over a hidden diary that had purposely been scraped away. Yet the restoration sparks an unforeseen challenge when William—a married man—and Rose experience an instant, unspoken attraction.

Five centuries earlier, Renaissance-era Venetians find themselves at the mercy of an encroaching Ottoman fleet preparing for a bloody war. Giovanni Lomazzo, a portrait artist grappling with tragedy, discovers that his vision is fading with each passing day. Facing the possibility of a completely dark world, Gio begins to document his every encounter, including what may be his final artistic feat: a commission to paint the enchanting courtesan of one of Venice’s most powerful military commanders. Soon, however, Gio finds himself enraptured by a magnificent forbidden love.

Spellbound by Gio’s revelations, Rose and William are soon forced to confront the reality of their own mystifying connection.

A richly detailed page-turner shadowed by one of history’s darkest times, The Lost Diary of Venice weaves a heartbreakingly vivid portrait of two vastly different worlds—and two tales of entrancing, unrelenting love.

Rose Newlin is a book restorer in a small college town whose life has been in stasis after the death of her father. But when William Lomazzo, an artist who Rose is instantly attracted to, brings in a sixteenth century palimpsest for restoration Rose finds her spark again. The treatise on art that’s the primary text is fascinating in its own right, but it’s the sketches and writings that had been scraped away underneath that truly capture William and Rose’s attention. As Rose works on the book, she and William are drawn to one another. But William is married and struggling with his troubled marriage. Past and present start to bleed together as they uncover a tale of forbidden love…

In the sixteenth century, Giovanni Lomazzo has already lost his wife and son. Now he’s losing his sight and despair is taking hold of him. He’s been tasked with one last commission: a portrait of a courtesan who takes his breath away. There’s more to Chiara than meets the eye and as she and Gio are drawn toward each other, the threat of what happens if they are discovered becomes more and more of a possibility…

The Lost Diary of Venice is a bittersweet tale. Margaux DeRoux weaves together two love stories, one set in the present and one set in a sixteenth century Venice on the cusp of war with the Ottoman empire.

Ms. DeRoux brings Venice to life quite well. The gorgeous clothing and scenery we like to envision is there, but also the darker elements. Antisemitism, sexism, religious zealotry, harsh conditions, and more aren’t overlooked and are, in fact, major elements of the story. Gio is the most well-drawn of all the main characters; an artist on the cusp of losing his sight who finds love when he’s close to giving up hope. I wish his relationships with secondary characters had been better fleshed out because it would have made the world stronger and the story richer. And I desperately wish we’d had more than brief moments in Chiara’s point of view. She’s hands-down the most fascinating character in the book, lovely and intelligent, bold and secretive. She’s a mystery in many ways throughout the book and as the pieces come together I wish we got to see her inner thoughts and feelings more. It’s a case of missed opportunity, for as Chiara’s past is revealed I found I could read a whole book just about her. The love story between Chiara and Gio is one of stolen moments and it’s beautiful and sad. Perhaps if the book were solely set in the sixteenth century the characters and the background scenes involving the battle over control of Cyprus would have had more depth, making the story go from good to great.

The modern-day storyline is where I struggled the most with The Lost Diary of Venice. I enjoyed the bits of the story where Rose was working on the restoration of the palimpsest and found those interesting. But the attraction between Rose and William never lived up to its potential, and not just because William was married. William and Rose’s love story is set up as a parallel of Gio and Chiara’s and it just doesn’t work. Rose and William aren’t as well drawn as their historical counterparts and their parts of the book felt flat to me. I couldn’t get emotionally invested in the modern day storyline so the book dragged in parts because of that. Still, though The Lost Diary of Venice takes a while to build steam, once it does it’s an engaging read. I had mixed feelings when I finished the book but the potential was there and I would be interested in reading more of Ms. DeRoux’s work.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.