Review: Secrecy by Rupert Thomson

Florence is famous for its art, and for being a place of romance, but Rupert Thomson’s Secrecy explores the dark side of the city.

It is 1691, and Gaetano Zummo has been summoned to Florence to create wax sculptures for the Grand Duke. Harbouring secrets of his own, Zummo finds himself falling for a woman with even bigger things to hide. As Zummo creates a life-size Venus in secret for the Grand Duke, he must also be wary of the poisonous Stufa, who has the power and position to destroy everything.

I don’t often read literary fiction, and Secrecy definitely falls into that bracket for me. This is a dark, twisting story which builds to a long-awaited climax, with cleverly crafted characters and a sinister overtone.

The plot is pretty basic – two people with secrets to hide try not to have them found out. But Thomson takes that basic plot and carves something intriguing and surprising. Secrecy‘s characters, from Zummo to Faustina to the Grand Duke to Stufa, are characters who harbour secrets not just from each other, but also from the reader. Thomson reveals a lot, but also leaves the reader wanting just that bit more, desiring to ask just one more question each time.

What I found most interesting, and loved the most, about Secrecy was the way Thomson played with memory, dreams and fantasy. There were times when I didn’t know what had really happened, and what memories had been clouded by time and distance. Truths seemed untrue, while some fantasy-like elements turned out to have substance.

Secrecy is a tense read – you never know when danger is going to strike. It’s beautifully written, evoking a world where every step you take can be watched and interpreted in the way that the powers that be can use to their advantage. I wouldn’t recommend Secrecy to everyone – it’s a tough read if you’re used to more mainstream or genre fiction, but it is worth it if you decide to put the effort in.

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