Jonathan Barnes

Waxing Lyrical

Secrecy

By

Granta Books 312pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

It is late in the afternoon of 18 April 1691 and our enigmatic narrator – Zummo, a Sicilian sculptor in wax – gazes from a high ridge upon the city of Florence. He surveys the sprawl of its streets, its ‘palaces and tenements’, ‘the russet dome of Santa Maria del Fiore’ which lies ‘like half a pomegranate … face-down on a cluttered dining table, its thick rind hollowed out, its jewelled fruit long gone’. At last, he spurs his horse onwards and commences the final stage of his journey towards the city gates. Once inside, he will befriend the Grand Duke, fall in love with an apothecary’s daughter, embark upon the greatest sculpture of his career and make a fleet of enemies – for his new home is a perilous place, full of plots, skulduggery and lies. It seems ominously prophetic, then, as he passes into the city itself, that he should happen to glance up and discover, looking sightlessly down at him, ‘several round objects mounted on the battlements’. ‘In the gloom,’ he says, with a shudder, ‘I could just make out bared teeth, clumps of hair.’

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