review: the medici boy

04 May 2014

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: publisher
pages: 336
review written: 2.5.14
originally published: 2014
Barnes & Noble:
Washinton Post:

title: The Medici Boy
author: John L'Heureux
The worlds of art, politics and passion collide in John L’Heureux’s masterful new novel, The Medici Boy. With rich composition, L’Heureux ingeniously transports the reader to Donatello’s Renaissance Italy—directly into his bottega, (workshop), as witnessed through the eyes of Luca Mattei, a devoted assistant. While creating his famous bronze of David and Goliath, Donatello’s passion for his enormously beautiful model and part time rent boy, Agnolo, ignites a dangerous jealousy that ultimately leads to Agnolo’s brutal murder. Luca, the complex and conflicted assistant, will sacrifice all to save the life of Donatello, even if it means the life of the master sculptor’s friend and great patron of art, Cosimo de’ Medici. John L’Heureux’s long-awaited novel delivers both a monumental and intimate narrative of the creative genius, Donatello, at the height of his powers. With incisive detail, L’Heureux beautifully renders the master sculptor’s forbidden homosexual passions, and the artistry that enthralled the powerful and highly competitive Medici and Albizzi families. The finished work is a sumptuously detailed historical novel that entertains while it delves deeply into both the sacred and the profane within one of the Italian Renaissance’s most consequential cities, fifteenth century Florence

My thoughts:
The title and the cover imply some mysterious paranormal historical fiction. The name "Medici" invokes drama and political ties and betrayal. I believed that the book would delve into the intricate complexities of the Medici family, a family we still remember today. Yet it focuses on unexpected "side" characters in the Medici life. The narrator is a plain boy turned man that narrates from a sort of third person limited point of view while himself playing an active role. A prostitute, a merchant, an adopted family, some friars--all relatively average characters for the book to bestow the name "The Medici Boy" Cosimi de' Medici makes a few appearances, but they're limited. His influence plays a part but not in the way one might think.

The main character (or rather, the narrator) tells the story of his master Donatello as he's involved with "sodomy". When the main character, Luca, was young he was adopted by a family that didn't care of him very well. So when one day, his "brother" (from that family), Agnolo shows up, it can only mean trouble. The story is less about art than it is about homosexuality. It was something that I hadn't expected when I picked up the book only knowing it was about Donatello--he who created the first free-standing sculpture in Renaissance Italy. His was like the precursor to Michelangelo. Yet I think there's enough mention of the art to interest art lovers.

The sodomy aspect of the story was fascinating to me because the only knowledge I have of "sodomy" with that term instead of "gay" is with what people tell me of the Bible. When I studied Renaissance Italy in my European History class, the Church played a role in sponsoring public art for the sake of bringing people to religion. And most art at the time was Christian. I mean, Donatello's first free standing bronze sculpture was of David defeating Goliath. Yet I had never considered how homosexuality was perceived at the time. Frankly, I thought the misinterpretation of the Bible occurred afterwards with the Gutenburg Bible. So L'Heureax's exploration of homosexuality was enlightening. The story, I think, is about the union between art and homosexuality with a lean towards the latter. I think The Medici Boy is unique in it's subject matter in this aspect.

Plot-wise, I think the story lacked "story". When I was reading, I was comparing it to The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, which is a book detailing the life of Michelangelo from his early life to his later years. It was close to a thousand pages long and went into detail the art and the intricate relationships that develop throughout life. I feel that with just three hundred and thirty six pages with font that's larger than the minuscule lettering of The Agony and the Ecstasy, that L'Heureax wasn't able to create a similar environment. The story jumped many years in between chapters. One minute he's seventeen and the next he's in his thirties. Also, I find the plot line was weak. Luca's unextraordinary and even boring in the first pages, and that part doesn't change. He works for his first master Donato and then for Donatello but nothing interesting happens. Luca observes homosexuality and worries that the Church will condemn his master and then his "brother" and so on and so forth. I think being the onlooker to someone else's story was too limiting. I would have rather the story been told from Agnolo's POV or a third person omniscient. In the end, I found myself skipping a couple of pages here and there for something to happen.

The characters too lacked development. Donatello was just some old guy. At least one can notice his depth in the later part of the book. Agnolo is just a brat, though I'm sure if his story was explored a bit further he would've made a brilliant character. Luca is shallow and flat. All the other side characters were BEYOND side characters. Luca's wife, for instance, is just there. Nothing to it. I guess I expected women to play a lesser role in a book about male homosexuality--but I don't like having that expectation. The characterisation was not the best it could be.

  Overall, this book wasn't remarkable. Literature-wise, it wasn't well done. But history-wise, I found the subject matter fascinating. I'm going to give this book 2 out of 6 umbrellas!


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