The arrival of a new novel from a Bowen Island writer is always exciting news. This is especially true in the case of Carol Cram, who has made an elegant entry into the world of historical fiction with The Towers of Tuscany. It’s a page-turning pleasure that will appeal equally to history buffs, Italophiles, painting enthusiasts, and explorers of the creative spirit.
Cram’s novel takes place in 14th century Italy during the last decade of the golden age of Sienese painting. It is the story of Sofia Carelli, who has spent an unusual childhood apprenticed to her father, a master painter in San Gimignano, the Tuscan city of towers. We meet Sofia in her own small tower, continuing to paint in secret for her father’s workshop as artistic respite from an oppressive marriage to Giorgio.
When her father is killed—in a scene straight from The Godfather–-Sofia flees to Siena to begin again as Sandro, a painter in Maestro Manzini’s workshop. With action-packed narrative and unexpected characters, the story follows the perils of seeking love, family and creative freedom as a woman in medieval Italy.
In her acknowledgements, Cram mentions that during her research she had access to a scale model of San Gimignano as it appeared in 1300. It’s a detail I mentioned because one of the biggest successes of this novel is how expertly Cram draws us down into that world. Her voice is easygoing and credible, making life in medieval Italy fresh and accessible – including the luscious details about that period’s art materials, techniques and transactions—and Sofia is a well crafted guide.
I quibbled briefly with a couple of bosom heaving moments in the latter half of the book, and the effectiveness of the painterly quotes starting each chapter. But these are minor quibbles. Overall, it’s a smart, ripper read.
Cram’s next work of historical fiction with an artistic twist is well under way. It is the first in a planned series of novels about a concert pianist who launches her career in Vienna on the day Beethoven is buried. I can picture my setting already: a beautiful Bowen day, a turntable loaded with Romantic music, and a chair by the fire or hammock on the porch with a Cram to hand.
The Towers of Tuscany is published by New Arcadia and is available from the author (details on www.carolcram.com) or through Amazon in print and ebook formats. Copies will also be for sale at the Bowen Island launch this Sunday, March 30 at 3.30 pm at the Gallery at Artisan Square. Carol Cram will read from her book and talk about some of the art featured in it. There will be food, Italian wine, and plenty of time for literary chat. Everyone is welcome.