The Venice Sketchbook
Lake Union Pub
April 13th, 2021
The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen brings to life the city of Venice. It is a love story not only between the hero and heroine, but between the heroine and the Italian city. Throughout the story, WWII looms as a backdrop which in some ways also becomes a character to the story along with Venice Italy.
“Venice has always been one of my favorite places going back to my childhood. My aunt went to Venice every single Easter. My parents would take us there to visit. We got to know the city very well, because my parents allowed us to do whatever we wanted. In my teens I wondered why my aunt went to Venice every year. Did she have a secret romance there? This idea, plus I wanted to write about Venice, was the driving force behind the story.”
The plot has Englishwoman Juliet Browning visiting Venice with her aunt in 1928 and then she visits again in 1938 and 1939. Each time, she meets and spends time with wealthy nobleman Leonardo Da Rossi. Leo is an Italian count with whom Juliet has an affair. Unfortunately, he is unhappily married to a wealthy Venetian girl. They cannot marry, even after Juliet becomes pregnant with Leo’s child. Plus, because of her father’s financial losses and untimely death, she cannot achieve her dreams of attending art college.
In 1938 Juliet gets a teaching job in Venice and rekindles her romance with Leo. But the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever. She is put in danger now as she agrees to become a spy for the English government.
“I wrote Juliet with a secret life. It made me think of my aunt although Juliet was much more of a free spirit. Both, in their later years, shut off their emotions. But as a young woman Juliet was hopeful and looked at the world as a wonderful place. Then things went bad as she lost her wealth, father, and hit hard times. In Venice, she is facing a World War. Throughout her life, she has been cheated.”
Fast-forward to 2001 when on her deathbed Juliet whispers “Venice” to her niece. In her will she leaves Caroline three keys and a sketchbook. Caroline, having marital problems of her own, decides to find herself by traveling to Venice to unlock the mysteries left to her by her aunt. The story now alternates between WWII and Caroline’s quest.
“I had many characters who have been artists in my books. For me, art ties everything together. The sketchbook is what brought Juliet back to Venice and allowed Caroline to gain her freedom. I also sketch and have put on the inside copy of the hardback one of my sketches. Caroline’s life did not go in the direction she planned. She is devoted to her son and feels betrayed by her ex-husband. At the end of the book, she realizes she deserves more out of life.”
Readers will enjoy the detailed descriptions provided by Bowen. She brings Venice to life with its amazing gondolas and canals, vaporetto, narrow streets, festivals, churches, art exhibitions, food, the colorful people, culture, and family ties.
The story takes readers on a journey, a history lesson of sorts. The details of art, culture, religion, food, and traditions are blended with romance, secrets, a world war, and amazing courage.