Where do I even start?
With a disclaimer, I guess. Since this book hasn’t yet been translated in English all the quotations are my translations of the book. So they might not be the best, but I tried my best to give you the ambiance and the point the author tried to send.
Quattrocento by Susana Fortes is a partly historical, partly fiction novel in which we follow an art graduate Ana Sotomayor who is writing her dissertation on the topic of a renaissance painter Pierpaolo Masoni and the Pazzi conspiracy in which they tried to assassinate the Medici family. Also, we follow through the second storyline the painter Pierpaolo Masoni and his apprentice Luca as they get intertwined in the conspiracy.
So far it wasn’t translated in English and maybe it is for the best because this is one of the worst novels my critical eyes have encountered. I am deeply disappointed since have been tracking down this novel for a few years and have become quite invested in finding it. Maybe it was the universe telling me not to read it?! However, recently I finally acquired it. Also, I decided to give annotating a try and this is the book I picked to be my victim. I have never made a better decision in my reading history.
And there I was, pen in hand, wide-eyed and opening the book I was ready to put on my favorites’ shelf. What a journey. On the second page, I put down the first question mark in the margin.
What followed was pages and pages of historically inaccurate descriptions of Florence in the early renaissance. Fortes described the town filled with buildings built years, even centuries later and sometimes even invented buildings that simply could not have existed in Florence. Such as churches which were described very closely as something out of medieval, precisely gothic France. This is simply not possible. This all would not such a big deal if the author herself didn’t claim to be a historian. Also, the dynamic of people living and the political scene in the historical part of the novel was not even remotely close to what really went on. In a way, it was described as through the eyes of a child.
Furthermore, to give you more examples of the pure idiocy of this novel, she claimed that around the year 1460 people regularly used flintlocks in wars while they weren’t even close to being invented. Also, she then claims that the Swiss Guard participated in the Pazzi conspiracy which took place in 1478. when the Swiss Guard wasn’t established until 1506.
All of this makes me so angry. I expected so much more out of a historical novel written by a historian.
One of the main reasons it makes me angry is the fact that many people will read this book and believe the historical „facts“ Susana Fortes presents without thinking about it twice. My major in university is art history. And I am specializing in the renaissance and baroque period. I hate that someone who is interested in this subject will be surrounded by pure bullshit!
Let’s now distance ourselves from this problem and step into another. The characters. Such bad character building that my heart ached as I read. The characters changed personalities on every page. They would be moral and humble on one page and then start fucking their university professor on the other with no warning nor character development that would precede it. Just an example. Also, the protagonist Ana Sotomayor would on one page be described and through dialogue seem completely foolish and then suddenly become wiser than her twenty years older university professor.
The plot. Predictable. Unexplained. Something would happen and Fortes would describe is so meticulously with sentences sometimes half a page long, as if we were reading a Proustian stream of consciousness novel. And then the event would be forgotten and never mention again.
There is a moment in which a character is raped. It is slipped into the storyline for only a very short paragraph and never mentioned again! There was no need to put it into the story! Not if you weren’t going to spend some time and words on the topic… also, it is described as if nothing bad has happened simply because the victim was male. So he must be content with the occasion.
Also, the fact that Susana Fortes decided that the best idea ever was to write a cheap version of Dan Brown’s DaVinci’s Code simply offends me. She didn’t provide intelligently argumented theories and stole some of the locations and situations from Dan Brown’s book. Such as the visit to a crypt beneath an old church which held an important secret where the protagonists were then entrapped by the villain and put in danger.
Then, I must talk about the writing style, which was horrifying. I was sometimes scared that Fortes’ completely idiotic descriptions in which she would use extremely long and „intelligent“ words that made no sense in the situation nor one with another would scar me forever. My favorite examples must be when she wrote: „I stood with my both feet.“. Also, she then spent half a page describing the love interest eye color which we all know bring nothing to the narrative nor to the characterization. I simply must share the description with you: „His eyes now seemed to have the shade of a pitcher filled with wine when a ray of lighting passes through it, with ribbons splattered with amber, malachite and lapis lazuli, the things that were present in his irises in interchangeable variety, changing also with his mood and the way lighting hit his eyes. Sometimes they shined with a golden pigment that could sometimes be found on Italian renaissance paintings.“ What? What does that mean? She here took almost every color that exists, but then as the icing on a very bad cake she made things even worse and said, in the last chapter, that the protagonist „held his face and looked into his eyes intensely even though she didn’t even know the color of them“. What is the point?
I thought of stopping now, but why? I am at the point of no return…
The henchmen of the bad guys were described, one as Gomez Addams and the other as Danny de Vito. Danny de Vito’s name was actually written in the description of the character. This is something I found really funny, even though it wasn’t supposed to be funny.
And now, the reason I decided to flip through the whole book one more time, just for all of you. I don’t know why there are so many pop culture references, but there was one I decided to count how many times it was used. Susana Fortes decided to mention Tom Waits six, and I repeat SIX times. Why? Please, tell me why.
And here I will stop. I will leave this unforgettable novel behind. I don’t recommend this book to anyone unless you are looking for something to make fun of and read almost every passage out loud to your friends so you can ridicule it even more.
Here, I thank the amazing writer Susana Fortes for writing this truly heartbreaking book and certainly breaking my heart and my soul as I read it!