Monday, October 27, 2014
Review of The Bellini Card by Jason Goodwin (Faber, 2009)
The strengths of The Bellini Card are the sense of place, characterisation, and historical detail. Goodwin places the reader in both Istanbul and Venice -- the landscape and architecture, the sights, sounds and smells, and the social strata and living conditions. The descriptions are wonderfully evocative and come to life in one’s mind’s eye. This is aided by a melting pot of nicely drawn characters -- a mix of fading aristocrats, bureaucrats, servants and criminals -- and their interactions conditioned by social standing. This is all well framed with respect to byzantine politics and the long history of connections between the two cities. The plot, however, is also somewhat byzantine. It might have been because I was tired when reading, but as the story progressed I became increasingly lost as to logic driving the story and I reached the end without really understanding the denouement. Maybe if I read it again it would become clear, but on first reading the complex weave and twists in the story never fully unravelled to reveal themselves. The result was a tale I enjoyed for the rich portrait of people and places, but where the plot became evermore incidental.