I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.I Am Venus by Barbara Mujica
Published by Overlook on June 13th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
In this breathtaking historical novel by the acclaimed author of the bestselling Frida, Bárbara Mujica reimagines the dramatic life and loves of the Baroque Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Narrated by the mysterious model who posed for The Toilet of Venus, his only surviving female nude, I Am Venus is the riveting account of a great artist’s rise to prominence, set against the backdrop of political turmoil and romantic scandal.
The year is 1619, and Diego Velázquez is a rising star at an art academy in Seville run by his father-in-law. But even as his young wife builds him a family, the painter yearns for a larger canvas, and soon his ambition lands him at the court of King Philip IV, where he quickly gains prominence, just as Spain is plunged into military defeat and domestic chaos.
But as he gains nobility and privilege, Velázquez encounters the sinful decadence that defines the regime. At the heart of this most conservative country, its ruling class breaks every rule that the masses must obey. As he finds himself torn between loyalty to family and the easy seductions of power, Velázquez decides to take on his riskiest painting yet, which could, in a stroke, land him in the claws of the Inquisition.
A sweeping story of scandal and passion, and a vivid recreation of a corrupt kingdom on the brink of collapse, I Am Venus is a thrilling novel that brings to life the public and private worlds of Spain’s greatest painter.
Today I have a review of Bárbara Mujica’s I Am Venus for you, as part of the TLC Book Tour. The book follows the life of artist Diego Velazquez, told through the eyes of those closest to him.
I can’t fault Mujica’s descriptive writing. She creates some wonderfully vivid images of seventeenth century Spain, causing the reader to experience the smells and sights of Madrid. She also clearly sets out current events at the time, meaning that any reader who does not know too much about seventeenth century European history should be able to follow the story with few issues. As I studied this period of history in school, it was really fun to see familiar names and figures brought to life. The one thing that may confuse the reader at some points however, are the similar names and rather wide cast of characters. Whilst this is obviously not the fault of the author, the characters having been real people four hundred years ago, it would have perhaps been nice to have a list of characters in the book somewhere.
The major issue I had with the book is that the point of view was often confusing. I understand that the author wanted the identity of Venus to be a mystery (she is unknown to this day) whilst also having her narrate the book. This lead to some odd narratives, often switching between first and third person and in fact making the book feel like it had several narrators. I think the idea behind it was good, but it perhaps was not pulled off correctly.
I wouldn’t so much refer to this book as a ‘story of scandal’ – especially when in the context of history that makes me think of things like the corruption of the Borgias or the supposedly inbred Hapsburgs – and the book doesn’t actually focus too much on what is going on in the wide world, but more on domestic and smaller issues relating to Velázquez. And whilst the book is about Velázquez, he is often absent for many chapters – as he was often absent from the lives of his loved ones – so it is more a story about the people in his life.
I particularly enjoyed this one because most historical fiction that I read is either ancient history, or based in medieval or Tudor England. So this was a nice change, and is definitely a recommended read for anyone with an interest in seventeenth century European art or history, or the Baroque period.