In 1701, a dying artist visits the reclusive abbess Marguerite -Louise of Orléans, who was once the wife of Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The artist named Zummo tells her an incredible story of political intrigue, erotic obsession, and doomed love in seventeenth-century Florence. A native of Sicily, Zummo makes his living as a sculptor of macabre wax figures which portray the suffering of plague victims. Cosimo III summons him to Florence to produce a unique sculpture for his eyes only; he wants Zummo to sculpt the life-size image of a perfect woman.
While working on his commission, Zummo becomes a confidant of the Grand Duke and finds out about his failed marriage. Zummo’s tempestuous past is revealed in flashbacks in which we learn about his first glimpses of Caravaggio’s paintings, his relationship with an abusive brother, and later, the suspicious death of his father which caused Zummo to flee his home forever. For a time, Zummo finds love with the apothecary’s daughter, Faustina, who has a shocking secret. Will this secrecy change their lives forever?
Rupert Thomson’s novel is an exceptional combination of literary craft, historical detail and intricate characterization. It is inspired by the life and work of the brilliant Sicilian wax sculptor Gaetano Giulio Zummo. Using flashbacks, Thomson introduces readers to Zummo’s past experiences and the forces that shaped his life and his art. He surrounds the eccentric sculptor with references to dynamic historical figures: Cosimo III, Savanorola, and Caravaggio. His portrayal of both the very wealthy and the impoverished inhabitants of Florence gives the novel exotic detail and intriguing atmospheric elements.
Rupert Thomson was born in 1955. He studied at Cambridge before taking on a variety of jobs including teaching and advertising. However, his ultimate aim was to become a writer. He published his first novel, Dreams of Leaving, in 1987. Since then, he has published eight novels (The Five Gates of Hell, Air and Fire, The Insult, Soft, The Book of Revelation, Divided Kingdom, Death of a Murderer and Secrecy). His books have received high praise, and reviewers have compared him to Franz Kafka, Charles Dickens and Elmore Leonard. His memoir, This Party’s Got to Stop, won the Writers’ Guild Non-Fiction Award in 2010.
Each of his novels has a distinctive focus such as blindness, torture, murder and drugs. The common thread in all his books is the examination of how trauma impacts the human condition. In Secrecy, Thomson portrays an eccentric Sicilian wax sculptor whose art revolves around plague victims. This focus on death and decay leads to an intriguing portrayal of seventeenth-century Florence. Zummo’s role as a sculptor for Grand Duke Cosimo III gives him a front-row seat on various aspects of Florentine life such as tempestuous love, political intrigue and riveting mystery. Thomson is skilled at weaving together interesting historical and cultural details with romance and politics which give depth and substance to his prose. Fans of Rupert Thomson’s other novels will not be disappointed by his newest. If you have never read any of his novels, you are in for a treat with Secrecy.