Sunday, October 22, 2006
"The Sixteen Pleasures," by Robert Hellenga
This book was a donation to the library where I work, and the description intrigued me. The story is set in 1966, where Margot Harrington joins hundreds of other volunteers in Florence to save the city's precious books and works of art from massive flood damage. During Margot's stay in a convent, salvaging and rebinding books, a nun discovers a shocking work of pornography. The back-cover synopsis concludes that Margot is then drawn to explore and experience all of the sixteen pleasures with a forbidden lover.
A bit dramatic. The found book turns out to be 17th century (I think) lost erotic poems by Aretino, along with anatomical engravings, that the pope had ordered destroyed. How this one copy survived remains a mystery, though it had escaped notice before because it was bound together inside a hymnal. Sale of this book could bring a great amount of money to the sisters of the convent and their library.
The history and culture of Florence is beautifully detailed, though the character of Margot is a tad dry for my taste. And her "forbidden lover" is simply an older man who has been separated from his wife for many years. The only thing forbidden is a divorce. And though Margot has taken it upon herself to restore the erotic volume with the prayer book, there is no focus or need to experience all of the sixteen pleasures...which, by the way, weren't really explained.
So the book details art, history, food, the minutia of book binding. Blah, blah, blah. It was okay. I forced myself to finish reading.