RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewToibin delves into the layers of the great German novelist’s unconscious, inviting us to understand his fraught, monumental, complicated and productive life. It’s a work of huge imaginative sympathy ... Toibin gives full rein to this sweeping story ... On the surface, this is the melancholy story of a sensitive but repressed man who can’t quite connect to his own impulses or supply the emotional needs of his wife and children. But Toibin excavates deeply, sifting through incidents in his life, turfing up incitements to his major fictions ... It takes a writer of Toibin’s caliber to understand how the seemingly inconsequential details of life can be transmogrified, turned into art ... overall, a satisfying and elegantly written novel. Its expansive and subtle rhythms carry the reader forward and backward in time, tracing an epic story of exile and literary grandeur, unpacking a major author’s psyche in such a way that the life of the imagination becomes, finally, the real and only tale worth telling.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt’s material that, in the hands of a gifted storyteller like Dunant, will captivate readers ... she occasionally leans on the sort of ready-made language that merely carries this sort of story along...But more often than not, Dunant surprises us with fresh and inventive imagery ... This capacious if highly conventional historical novel glides on to its own dissolution as the lives of Rodrigo and Cesare unravel, the strings binding their empire loosen, their minds fray, their bodies weaken. Only Lucrezia seems to flourish, although we learn about this somewhat after-the-fact in the epilogue, narrated by Machiavelli in later life. There may be more history in this novel than fiction, which lessens the emotional impact of an otherwise satisfying tale, impressive in its sweep and mastery of detail. I only wish that Dunant had managed to bring all her characters to life as ably as she has Lucrezia, who is perhaps the one indelible figure inhabiting this story.