In the name of the family by Sarah Dunant
Little, Brown, 2017. ISBN 9781844087648
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. This is a blockbuster, a historical story of a world in moral disarray, ruled by enormously rich families, their actions morally bankrupt, driven as they are by lust for personal gain and power. In fact, lust in all its forms plays a large role in this story. We read about the sexual romps, the engorged appetites of the men and the women who pander to their every need. While the men pursue land, wealth and power, the women are there to entertain, as courtesans, and to bear children, as wives. They can, and do, influence the men, however. Yet, this world is depicted as very much a man's world.
It is a tale wonderfully told, in richly descriptive language. It is not a light-hearted tale about good families and courageous people. It is instead a powerful, dark, violent, manipulative and, at times, despicable story. Yet it is also a wonderful and richly satisfying book that makes the reader very happy to live in the modern world, where at least there are strategies and laws that may prevent some of the megalomaniacal actions that we read about in this history, or so we hope!
Sarah Dunant has a brilliant grasp of the period, her deep and broad research enabling her to reconstruct a world of the past, and to construct it in a strong literary piece that is extraordinarily detailed. The strength of the novel lies in the detailed retelling of the times and the historically rich narration of the lives of the main characters - the famous Borgias and Macchiavellis. When we use the descriptor, 'Macchiavelian', we speak as if we know what that means. Yet, after finishing this novel, we find that we may not have known very much of their lives, and now we see, through a modern mindset, a sense of the oppression of woman, the demands for sexual favour, the sometimes terrible deeds such as the slaughtering of women and children, families and small towns when deemed 'necessary', and we are exposed to truly evil characters. We discover that most of us would know little about these times and these families as we are drawn into an appalling world, one of lechery, devious actions, plotting, evil deeds, and dark secrets. Dunant makes sure that we know much more by the time we finish reading this most entertaining historical novel.