Since reading Marina Fiorato’s Beatrice and Benedick last year, I’ve wanted to try another of her books. There were three on the shelf in the library, so I had a choice to make!
Two years ago, I visited Venice for the first time and, like many tourists, took a vaporetto to the island of Murano and went into one of the famous glass factories to watch a demonstration of glass blowing. It’s not surprising, then, that I was drawn to this particular book by the title, The Glassblower of Murano.
The novel follows Nora Manin as she undertakes a journey very similar to my own, visiting Murano and entering a glass workshop. Nora is not just a tourist, though – she is planning to start a new life in Venice and is hoping to get a job blowing glass. As the descendant of one of the most famous glassblowers in Venetian history, Corradino Manin, and a talented glass artist in her own right, Nora easily convinces the factory owner to employ her. However, as Nora begins to settle into her new job she learns something about her ancestor that she would rather not have known.
Alternating with Nora’s story is the story of Corradino, set in 1681. Like all glassblowers, Corradino is closely watched by the sinister Council of Ten and forbidden to leave Venice in case he gives away his glassmaking secrets, but one day he is approached by a Frenchman who makes a very tempting offer. Whether or not Corradino does betray the secrets of the glass is something Nora needs to discover if she is to restore not only her ancestor’s reputation but her own.
I enjoyed The Glassblower of Murano. It wasn’t perfect and it did feel like a first book (this was Marina Fiorato’s debut novel and having also read her newest one, Beatrice and Benedick, I think her writing has improved a lot over the years) but it was still an interesting, entertaining read and just what I was in the mood for. I loved the setting, of course, and could feel the author’s own love for Venice shining through on every page. The descriptions of glassblowing techniques are fascinating as well; I’ve never really given any thought as to how mirrors were made, so it was interesting to read about Corradino’s methods. I did wonder whether Corradino was based on a real person, but it seems that he’s an entirely fictional character – although the author’s portrayal of the 17th century world in which he lives feels real and convincing.
Usually when a book has dual time periods, I find that I have a preference for one over the other and this was no exception – the historical storyline was my favourite – but I did find the contemporary strand quite compelling too. I was so caught up in the stories of Nora and Corradino that I was almost (but not quite) able to overlook the flaws with the book, such as the implausible coincidences, the subplots that were started but never developed, and the fact that all of the characters apart from the two main protagonists lacked depth.
I had some problems with The Glassblower of Murano, then, but I thought it was an enjoyable book overall and I’m looking forward to reading her others. Her other novel set in Venice, The Venetian Contract, sounds appealing so maybe I’ll try that one next.