Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Rossetti Letter

In The Rossetti Letter, Claire Donovan is a Ph.D student at Harvard finishing her dissertation on Alessandra Rossetti and the letter she supposedly wrote to the Venetian officials warning them of the so-called Spanish Conspiracy.

Narrative shfits between present day Venice with Claire and her research and 1618 Venice, where Alessandra is a young single woman and one of Venice's most popular courtesan's. The two narratives, from two different eras is still an exciting tool for any author trying to make history come alive. But in The Rossetti Letter it feels too familiar. Nothing about the characters, setting or theme is original. As a reader, ther are two things I ask of from a book: something original and a protagonist I like. The protagonist may be a killer, see Edward Glyver in Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night, but I have to like the protagonist enough, to care enough to take time out of my day and follow them as their story unfolds.

On the advice of her best friend, Meredith, Claire is chaperoning a 14 year old, Gwen, on a week long trip to Venice. This gives Claire the opportunity to attend a conference and conduct some much needed research. However, Andrew Kent, famed historian from Cambridge, is giving a lecture at the conference that could possibly debunk Claire's dissertation.

Though the paperback copy I read is 434 pages long, I read the book in about three days. That's both good and bad. Good because it was a quick, effortless read. Bad because I didn't want to spend anytime with the book or the characters...for a number of reasons.

What threw me right away, was Claire's lack of knowledge about the competitive field of history that she was working and studying in. How could Claire not know who Andrew Kent is? He's a famed historian and he's writing a book on the same subject as her. Once she found out that he was speaking at the conference, wouldn't she have gone on-line to try and find out about him? Nope. She actually thinks he's a woman, named Andrea Kent. Great research from a Harvard Ph.D candidate.

The rest of the story falls in place like every other cliche book or movie. In fact, I saw this more as a movie than a book. The same feelings I had after reading The Da Vinci Code or any Steve Berry book. Cliched themes, cliched writing, cliched characters. The paperback copy has a good cover design and it the back cover copy makes the book sound interesting enough...but don't judge a book by its cover.

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