Richard Davenport-Hines

The Floating World

Venice: Pure City

By

Chatto & Windus 387pp £25 order from our bookshop

Peter Ackroyd has the gift of transmuting other men’s sober research into the golden sentences that make his books on men and cities so irresistible, entrancing, occasionally weird but undeniably grand. His researchers, Thomas Wright and Murrough O’Brien, have toiled for Venice: Pure City, but it is Ackroyd who has turned their diligence into effulgent, mesmeric, satisfying prose.

The book opens with a heady evocation of the wild Adriatic lagoon in the aeons before there was a city, with its mud flats, salt marshes and sand banks, the preserve of fowlers and fishermen. In the eighth century BC there arose a scant trade in amber, wax, honey and cheese. An invasion of Venetia by Lombards led to wider settlement in the sixth century. ‘The settlers fenced the soil with planks and poles; they drained the water; they laid down building rubble or sediment, or sand from the dunes; they erected wooden palisades to resist the sea. It was the beginning of the city.’

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,