Secrecy by Rupert Thomson - review by Jonathan Barnes

Jonathan Barnes

Waxing Lyrical



Granta Books 312pp £14.99

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.’

So begins Secrecy, Rupert Thomson’s ninth work of fiction, an impressive historical adventure written in accomplished prose. Zummo is a likeable protagonist, though the reader may not share his devotion to wax, a topic upon which he is evangelical (‘Wax could lead you into temptation. Wax could deliver you from

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