Sarah Dunant, Friends Meeting House, Manchester Literature Festival, Friday 11th October, reviewed by Danielle Page
Blood and Beauty is the latest masterpiece from the award winning and hugely renowned historical author Sarah Dunant, who graced the hall of the impressive and yet beautifully simply Friends Meeting House on Friday 11th October.
Whilst her last 3 novels were centred on the Italian Renaissance, Blood and Beauty focuses on the dynasty of the Borgia family; portraying them not just as the scandalous killers many adaptations have chosen to name them as (the popular series on Sky getting a special mention at this point), but as real human beings with vulnerabilities and an honest family bond. When asked if she thought taking the path of history in its truth rather than the scandalous rumours which circulate the family would be somewhat boring to the reader, she replied with a simple piece of advice; “always follow the facts”. During the answer and question segment of the night, Dunant explained in great detail the perils each of these characters – these real people in history – were forced to go through, each outlined in this novel, and the way the story effectively painted itself because of the amazing history behind it. She pointed out quite rightly that the Borgia family were a Spanish unity in an already corrupt Italy; they were outsiders and coincidentally, when things started to go wrong, they received the blame.
So therefore, if Dunant does not follow the stereotypes, surely this would seem as a completely new story? This is exactly the reason for why any reader with an interest in not just the Borgia family but of history as a whole should buy a copy of Blood and Beauty. Seeing the vulnerabilities of these characters and the determination and strength grow makes this historical novel so much more real than the ones it follows.
When asked why she had decided to write the novel predominantly in the first person, Dunant explained it was something that didn’t just decide itself. She wanted to “kidnap” the reader from this modern era with their busy lives and impressive technology and “plunge” them into this strange and different time. It acts as “an emotional trick” to allow for sympathy and empathy for these estranged characters to be provoked.
Throughout the whole night, the enthusiasm and pure passion for this historical era Sarah Dunant holds is hard to ignore. Sifting through mounds of diaries, articles and even art, a lot of dedication and preparation was put into this novel to make it as accurate as possible, “down to a portrait”. This passion is clear in every page of Blood and Beauty.