Well, this is exactly what Titian’s Boatman feels like.
It may not look like it at first, when the reader is introduced to several characters in various places and various times. There is the eponymous boatman, plying his trade in a plague-ridden Venice in 1576, ferrying back and forth Titian’s last surviving son and plucky courtesan Tullia Buffo. Then, in present day London, there are actor Terry Jardine and Italian director Ludovico Zabarella, brought together by Shakespeare and personal loss. Lastly, there’s Cuban maid Aurora, carrying the weight of childhood trauma and widowhood – and finding consolation in a painting…
And the paintings – Titian’s paintings – are the first connection tying together the different strands of this story. But there is so much more… Victoria Blake weaves many patterns, but they are never obvious. They emerge gradually, gently, as the reader gets to know the characters and their stories in depth – until the whole tale is one complex, layered tapestry.
Also, the different points of view and narrative modes (first and third person, present and past tense…), combined with the different times and places, add to the richness, creating a kaleidoscope-like view of a world where art and beauty run as an undercurrent to all lives – whether for good or bad. Because, while art has an ultimately redemptive power, its actual or potential darker sides are also shown, in several subtle and intelligent ways.
And finally, Victoria Blake paints her different settings very vividly, from a Renaissance Venice warily shaking off the disease to the present day contrast between Aurora’s flat and that of her very (if not very honestly) rich employers, to the London theatrical milieu. I might have a few quibbles about Italy (for instance Cadore has woods, rather than forests, and fiesta is Spanish where the Italian word would be festa), but they are very small, and do nothing to spoil a lovely, deep, thoughtful book about art, its joys, its many prices and, ultimately, its power to heal and connect.