The author of Hamnet brings the world of Renaissance Italy to jewel-bright life in this fictional portrait of the captivating young duchess Lucrezia de' Medici as she makes her way in a troubled court.
O’Farrell creeps into this gloomy realm of intrigue with an inkwell full of blood and a stiletto for her pen ... O’Farrell pulls out little threads of historical detail to weave this story of a precocious girl sensitive to the contradictions of her station ... O’Farrell’s manipulation of time and point of view keeps us vacillating between sympathy and skepticism ... You may know the history, and you may think you know what’s coming, but don’t be so sure. O’Farrell and Lucrezia, with her 'crystalline, righteous anger,' will always be one step ahead of you.
The book’s use of present tense rushes us along on the leading edge of her experience. O’Farrell has an uncanny ability to put us in Lucrezia’s very unusual shoes. One experiences, viscerally, Lucrezia’s exhaustion and terror when she is abandoned in a strange place a few hours after her marriage, her giddy excitement and expansive feeling of freedom in the early days of her marriage, her revulsion and fear as her husband’s 'fury and contempt' emerge, and her certainty that 'some vital part of her will not bend, will never yield' ... The final twist is so unexpected and so gorgeously executed that it brought this reader to tears. With it, O’Farrell demonstrates fiction’s ability to offer counter narratives to those of received history, to open before us imaginative abundance and a tremulous sense of possibility.
Subtlety is sacrificed for the kind of pulsing intensity most often found in thrillers ... Ms. O’Farrell intelligently connects Lucrezia’s trapped circumstances with the art that her husband, a notable patron and collector, commissions to immortalize her ... There is a blinding power to the heightened, almost fetishistic beauty of Renaissance art, this novel suggests as it portrays a world of far greater brutality and fierceness.