Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Imprimatur by Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti. Historical Fiction Review

Published 2002 Italy; Published Great Britain 2008 by Polygon; ISBN 978 1 84597 105 1; 649 pages.

What a historical fiction novel!  Rita Minaldi is a religions history expert and her writing partner, Francesco Sorti, is a musicologist, both attributes heavily emphasized in Imprimatur.

Originally published in Italy in 2002, Imprimatur was then boycotted by Italian publishers.  The concept which develops through this historical novel was considered too controversial.  That's as much as I can reveal about the boycott without giving away the plot.  The book was, however, later published in Great Britain.

This is an incredibly well-researched historical novel.  You truly are transported to Rome, 1683.  You smell the filth, suffer the woes and subjugation of the lower class, are disgusted by the level at which human beings are forced to earn their living, are surprised by characters' underhandedness and lack of compassion.  The characters are permitted to feel terror and other emotions many authors are fearful of imbuing their characters with.  On occasion, a wry sense of humor emerges.  All in all, the characters are developed with imperfect human natures, such as every human being possesses.

I could go on forever about the research invested in this book.  One form of research that stands out particularly in my mind are the medical potions and treatments of the day.  The authors integrate conflicting medical options of the day seamlessly into the prose and dialogue.  All I can say after reading this historical novel, is I'm glad I live with today's medical technology!  Perhaps history is responsible for the saying "If it doesn't kill you, it will cure you".

The majority of the activity in Imprimatur takes place between from September 11 and September 20, 1683.  The novel wraps up with events between September 20 and 25, 1683, in 1688 and on September 16, 1699.

On September 11, 1683, the Locanda del Donzello Inn is invaded by men of the Bargello who quarantine 9 guests, the owner and an apprentice.  The novel is written in first person though the eyes of the apprentice.  A French lodger, Signor di Mourai, dies in the inn that morning from an unknown cause.  Fear of the pestilence is extreme in Rome and no mysterious deaths are dealt with lightly.  Accordingly, everyone in the Locanda del Donzello Inn is under guard and quarantine until the authorities deem all risk has passed.

Nobody is who they portray in Imprimatur.  Secrets abound and are teased out, in a number of ways, until the very end of the novel.  This is one novel where the ending is completely unexpected.  While you are busy suspecting one inn guest, another takes you by surprise.

The authors allow the apprentice boy and, Abbot Melani, secret spy of King Louis IV of France, fallacies as they race against time to solve a mystery that could change the entire history of western culture.  That last sentence may sound dramatic, but the authors have written this historical novel with such authority and plausibility that no need to suspend disbelief is required.  A few times they are sent off on wild-goose chases, which gives the book more credibility.

Monaldi & Sorti plumb the depths of all the lodgers' personalities and show us both their favorable and unfavorable traits, without heavy emphasis on either.  The reader is permitted to make their own decisions as to whether faults are forgivable in accordance with the morals of the time.

Imprimatur is a lengthy novel, but no worries.  The authors keep the threads consistent throughout and insert enough reminders through natural dialogue that the reader never feels lost.

It's been a long time since I've read such a phenomenal book.  Highly recommended.  There are 2 sequels to Imprimatur, Secretum (which I own) and Veritas (which I intend to own), that follow the further adventures of Abbot Atto Melani..  I read Imprimatur in paperback; I was unable to locate it in e-reader format.

Rating: 5 Stars ***** (Exceptional) 

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