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The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

The Book of Human Skin (original 2010; edition 2011)

by Michelle Lovric

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2042457,485 (3.65)33
Title:The Book of Human Skin
Authors:Michelle Lovric
Info:Bloomsbury Paperbacks (2011), Paperback, 512 pages
Collections:2012, Your library
Tags:Venice, Italy, Peru, silver, nun, Catholicism, monster, villain, self-harm, sadism, cruelty, medicine, skin, books, library, binding

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The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric (2010)


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This really is a dark gem: a captivating story, rich with historical details, and packed full of full of characters, incidents, ideas and images.

The story is brought to life by an extraordinary cast of characters so vividly painted. There is a cruel villain, a resourceful heroine, a penniless lover, and a mad woman. There are servants who are loyal but powerless; and there are friends who cannot help as much as they might like but who will do whatever they can.

At the centre of the story are the trials of Marcella Fasan, daughter of an aristocratic Venetian family; whose jealous, brother, Minguillo, will do anything – anything – in his power to strip her of her rightful inheritance.

There are five voices, five different perspectives, all beautifully delineated; each one is both distinctive and engaging

Minguello Fasan, born in 1784 is ruthless, malevolent, sadistic, and downright amoral. He aware of the dislike that his whole household, even his parents, feels for him; but he doesn’t doubt for a moment that it is for him, and for him alone, to inherit all his family’s wealth and social position.

He is repellent, but he is also a charming and compelling storyteller

Minguello’s collection of books bound in human skin is his consuming passion.

Marcella Fasan, his only surviving sister, is loved by everyone; but she learns at a very early age that it is wise to stay out of her brother’s way, and that it is wise to keep her worries to herself, and to show no attachment to any of the people around her so that they do not incur the wrath of Minguillo.

At first I found her almost too good, too stoical, but I quickly came to understand and to love Marcella. She was intelligent, she was a talented artist; and she had sufficient faith, courage and resourcefulness to rise above everything her brother did to her.

He did her physical harm, but her luminous skin wold always be beautiful.

Doctor Santo Aldobrandini was a poor orphan, but his good heart, his burning desire to help the afflicted, and his willingness to work hard to achieve his ambitions led him to an apprenticeship with a surgeon. He found himself allied with Napoleon when he was called upon to treat those injured in the course of Bonaparte’s march across Europe; and in Venice he saw Marcella and he fell helplessly in love. At first he loved her from afar, knowing that his station in life was far below hers, but when he was made aware of her brother’s malevolent treatment of her he knew that he had to act.

I loved his story, and I came to love him.

Santo’s had a special medical interest: conditions of the skin.

Gianni delle Boccole, Minguillo’s semi-literate valet, presented himself as a fool to gain the trust of his master, but he was devoted to Marcella and he would do whatever he could to help her.

His spelling and grammar was idiosyncratic, but I came to love it, but I came to love his warmth and wit. It was such a lovely contrast to the darker side if the story.

Gianni, Minguillo’s semi-literate valet, plays the fool in order to gain the trust of his wary master and eventually plays a crucial role in rescuing Marcella, the damsel in distress.

Meanwhile, in Peru, Sor Loreta, dreamed of becoming a martyr, a saint, and the prioress of Santa Catalina. She was so sure that she was right, and that her way was right, that she dismissed any disagreement as the work of the devil. She believed that she was on the road to God; her mother superior, and everyone else around her, believed that she was deranged and delusional.

Her story was compelling; her psychology was fascinating.

Sor Loretta’s first step towards god was the mortification of the flesh.

A wonderfully wide-ranging plot, rich with details, taking in European and Latin American history, art and culture, religion and convent life, and a wonderful cast of supporting characters, each with their own story, twists and turns so cleverly until every one of those five narrators has told their story.

That story was theatrical; it was utterly believable – on its own terms – but it was just a little bit larger than life. The shifts between characters who stood for the light and characters who stood for the dark were very effective, and it was only when the narrative stayed with one side or the other for too long that it lost its hold, just a little.

Michelle Lovric’s writing is rich and lovely, and she paints a wonderfully detailed picture of her characters and everything in their worlds. I can’t mention everything, but I must mention that I was delighted to meet Cecilia Cornaro, whose own story was told in ‘Carnevale’ again, and I was so pleased that she had a significant part to play in Marcella’s life.

There’s a wealth of history underpinning this story; it’s very cleverly done, and I couldn’t doubt for a moment that Michelle Lovric knew and loved that history.

At the centre of it all was a wonderful story, a story that I could hardly predict at all, and that story – and its five wonderful narrators held me from start to finish. ( )
1 vote BeyondEdenRock | May 17, 2016 |
While not as gruesome as the title would have you believe, The Book of Human Skin is definitely a good read.

It starts off a little slow, and the constant changing of narrator (one per chapter, with each chapter being very short) meant that it took a little while to develop into a cohesive narrative. But when it got going it really did get going!

Minguillo is a detestable creature, Marcella is a little too good to be true, Gianni is utterly loveable, Santo is determined and strong, and Sor Loreta is deranged.

Theirs is the tale of the Fasan family, a brother's hatred of his younger sister who stands to inherit the family fortune in place of him, and his machinations to have her disinherited in favour of himself. Minguillo is truly loathsome character, but Marcella's strength of spirit triumphs with the help of the many who love her, and allows for a satisfying ending.

( )
  GwenMcGinty | May 13, 2016 |
A slow start and for the first two hundred pages I was contemplating giving up, but glad I persevered as it really gets into gear after that. Definitely one that you'll keep thinking about... ( )
  ellohull | Feb 10, 2016 |
Ever since reciving [b:The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters|23207582|The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters|Michelle Lovric|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/book/50x75-4845f44723bc5d3a9ac322f99b110b1d.png|40267376] as a GoodReads First Reads I've wanted to dive into another book by Lovric. I couldn't put The Book of Human Skin down. It was fantastic.

Lovric, by using semi-possible (or rather credible seeming) historcical background and several points of view created wove an amazing story. And when I said wove it isn't just a saying. There were several points of view through out that book that tell the story in a seamless manner. I couldn't put it down.

The writing is smart and funny and just a bit uncomfortable. Its fantastic and Lovric has quickly become of my favorite authors. ( )
  sscarllet | Jan 27, 2015 |

This is one of those books that I feel could have benefited had I been reading it by itself. Unfortunately for this particular work, I've had plenty of simultaneous reading experiences where each work held their own just fine in conjunction with their competition, so my penchant for multiple books is really not to blame.

Intriguing title, isn't it? Sensational, salacious, and easily backed up by the promise of the summary and the entirety of the book. The only problem, really, was the matter of the book buckling under its own weight of cast, plot, and historical trivia. I have to give credit for the incredible amount of research the writer put into the composition, but the fact remains that I paid increasingly more attention to the seams stitching this bulging form together as the story went on. A case of the construct posing more of an interest than the writing itself, unfortunately.

There was plenty of reason for interest. Five narrators, each with their carefully delineated traits and oftentimes cleverly put together vernacular, sailing along on a path spanning the revolts in Spanish controlled Peru to the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, strung together by reasons of love, atrocity, and skin. The setting was especially grand, ripe with cosmopolitan factual intrigue and an especial interest in conveying the more disgusting aspects of living in this age in as vividly visceral a manner as possible. However, not even this grand scale of things, or anything else for that matter, was enough to make up for the ultimate flatness of many of the characters, tugged as they were this way and that as an increasingly obvious excuse to display so much of the world that they lived in.

There was also the matter of the final thirty or so pages being devoted to historical notes, the sort of thing that usually guarantees my interest. Unfortunately, the author's choice in divulging her research resulted in less of a fascinated outlook and more of a disappointment with the man behind the curtain feeling, not at all helped by the several times the topics devolved into strains of commentary bordering on rants that did more to display the author's personal beliefs than keep me intrigued. Mind you, I adore digression, but not the sort that did more to highlight the weakness of the author's prose when not cloaked in vernacular pyrotechnics than anything else.

So, if you have an interest in late 18th to early 19th history spanning from Venice to Arequipa, the seedier side of convents, medical practices caked in blood and gore and pus, various explorations of poverty, the field of books bound in human skin, and don't mind if the people running through the plot are rather predictable, go for it. The fact that the end of the pages left me yawning over the lists of historical instances of literary pursuits intersecting with both dissectional and vivisectional practices may say more about me than the quality of the work. ( )
  Korrick | Sep 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Lovric’s dark tale of familial woe and colonial intrigue will imprint upon the Dear Reader’s skin in the way only a classic can.
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Vile and contemptible is the book which every body likes.
Thomas Spooner of Lemon Street
A Compendious Treatise of the Diseases of the Skin, from the Slightest Itching Humour in Particular Parts only, to the most Inveterate Itch, 1724
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I want to tell ye the story of Marcella Fasan, someone have got to do it.
This is going to be a little uncomfortable.
'... the first thing that the Dearly Beloved Reader asks Himself when He opens a book, and lets a voice have at Him, is - 'Do I wish to go on a long walk in the dark with this person?'
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1784, Venice. Minguillo Fasan, heir to the decaying, gothic Palazzo Espagnol, is born. Yet he is no ordinary child, he is strange, devious, and all those who come near are fearful. Twelve years later, Minguillo, who has already contrived to lose one sibling, is listening to the birth-cries of his new sister Marcella, a threat to his inheritance. Minguillo's jealousy will condemn his sister to a series of fates as a cripple, a madwoman and a nun. But Marcella is not quite the soft target Minguillo imagines.… (more)

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