Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric (4.5/5)

The back says: 13 May, 1784, Venice: Minguillo Fasan, heir to the decaying, gothic Palazzo Espagnol, is born. Yet Minguillo is no ordinary child: he is strange, devious and all those who come near him are fearful. Twelve years later Minguillo is faced with an unexpected threat to his inheritance: a newborn sister, Marcella. His untempered jealousy will condemn his sister to a series of fates as a cripple, a madwoman and a nun. But in his insatiable quest to destroy her, he may have underestimated his sister's ferocious determination, and her unlikely allies who will go to extraordinary lengths to save her...

I say: I can’t even know where or how to begin to describe how much I loved this because it came in so many layers. So I’m going to try to split it up and we’ll see how it goes.

First of all this consists of five characters telling their own version of the same tale in the form of diary entries, if you will – all with a different font.

Minguillo Fasan: the evil brother, who was constantly addressing the audience, which I liked for the most part (some of it was a bit over the top, but then again, he was some kind of crazy). I liked reading his parts simply because it was chilling to see how far down the path of crazy he descended. Just when I thought that he would let things be, he went to stir up more and more trouble. His font was extremely small and quite the strain on my eyes, but we managed.

Marcella Fasan: Minguillo’s sister; the good and innocent one; constantly suffering for the sake of others. I really liked her, and it was disturbing to follow her thought process at times because she was such a martyr.

Gianni delle Boccole: a servant in the Fasan home, whose parts were written in vernacular (which I hate) and it took me a while to understand some of the words. He was the archetypal big, strong, and kind oaf sort of person, who did play an integral part in the plot, and I liked him, he was just not that exciting.

Doctor Santo Aldobrandini: his parts were somewhat repugnant at times when he went into great detail about skin diseases (his biggest interest) and his accounts of what he did as a doctor while on the battle field. He also went into medical detail about Napoleon’s various maladies, which was far more information than I ever wanted to know.

Sor Loreta: the crazy nun, who went on and on about how good she was and what sinners everyone else were; completely obsessed with martyrdom, and various canonized nuns, she made my skin crawl. The way that she spoke of seeing angels, hearing voices and the lengths she went to prove her love of god were downright disturbing.

I’m not sure that I can claim to love the way Lovric writes since it was five different styles, but my word is she talented. The way she weaved all these lives together is ridiculously impressive; especially since it took a while before they all came together in a poetically just end. I must also mention that I’m not sure why, but there’s something about adding real characters into a work of fiction that somehow enhances the reading experience for me. Like knowing that there are nuns that really do disfigure themselves like Sor Loreta; that the saints mentioned were real; and also the integration of Tupac Amary II in the plot.

At one point in the novel Minguillo comes across a copy of a book that is said to have been bound in the skin of Tupac Amaru II, and he later becomes obsessed with finding more of its kind.

Needless to say, I was hooked all the way through reading this, and even “had to” read while I was volunteering at the indie cinema, completely ignoring my customers.

It happens.

To sum up this almost ludicrously long review, I loved this. The only reason it gets 4.5 instead of the full 5 is because of the vernacular in Gianni’s part, the sometimes annoyingly over familiar way Minguillo addressed the audience (his tiny font) and some ridiculous things that happened near the end of the novel.

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