The Gondola Maker is set in Venice in the 16th century and tells the story of Luca Vianello, the son of a gondola maker. As the novel opens in 1581, Luca’s future seems secure – he will marry Annalisa Bonfante, the blacksmith’s daughter, and on his father’s death he will inherit the family business. However, when a tragedy unexpectedly tears the Vianello family apart, Luca is forced to leave the squero (boatyard) behind to seek a new life and career for himself.
I was lucky enough to visit Venice for the first time last year and reading The Gondola Maker reminded me of what a beautiful, unique city it is and how I would love to go again. The author’s descriptions are so vivid that whether or not you’ve been to Venice you’ll be able to picture the grand palazzos of the rich merchants and noblemen lining the Grand Canal, the sun setting behind the basilica of San Marco, the view across the lagoon to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and the inside of a prison cell in the Doge’s palace.
Being a novel about a family of gondola makers, it’s no surprise that we are given lots of information on the art of gondola making. And it really is an art! As we accompany Luca on a mission to restore one of his grandfather’s old gondolas, we see how many different people are involved in the process, from the remèri who make the oars and the fórcole (rowlocks which secure the oar) to the blacksmiths who construct the ferri (the metal decorations at the prow). Each of these artists pours their skill, knowledge and love into their work so that each complete gondola is an object of beauty and perfection.
This was all much more interesting to read about than I had expected, but of course there is more to this story than just the making of boats. While it’s true that most of Luca’s time is spent among fellow craftsmen and gondoliers, after he leaves the family squero his adventures also bring him into contact with a successful portrait painter, a maker of costumes for balls and carnivals, and a beautiful young woman who becomes his love interest. Luca himself is a character I found easy to like, which is fortunate as he is narrating his story in the first person, meaning we spend the entire novel in his company.
This is not a particularly fast-paced book and Luca’s story is not always very dramatic, but despite this I did enjoy The Gondola Maker. I found the ending of the book too abrupt and the conclusion of the romantic storyline wasn’t very satisfying which was a bit disappointing, but this didn’t spoil the rest of the novel for me. It was good to have an opportunity to learn about the creation of gondolas, a subject I had never read about or even thought about before – and I loved visiting Venice again, albeit through fiction this time, instead of in person!
I read The Gondola Maker as part of an iRead Book Tour. For more reviews, interviews and giveaways please see the tour schedule.