In the Name of the Family ~ by Sarah Dunant

I’ve read a couple books by Dunant over the last few years ago and have not been impressed.   The prior books were “Sacred Hearts” and “Blood and Beauty”,   Dunant’s 1st book in this series about the Borgias.   Nevertheless, several members of one of my reading groups adore her work and  I succumbed.

In the Name of the Family
by Sarah Dunant
2016 / 480 pages
read by Nicholas Boulton 14h 11m
Rating:  7.5 /  historical fiction 
(sequel to Blood and Beauty) 

I generally enjoy historical fiction,  but there are some highly regarded novels which can grate on me and I’m at a loss to know why.  I have a suspicion they have too much historical information which is too closely intertwined with the fictional elements.

In my opinion,  it would be a good idea to have some background in the story of the Borgia family prior to reading the book.   Blood and Beauty is a good start but unless you read the books back-to-back it’s probably not enough and even then,  In the Name of the Family goes on through the births and deaths of many of the major characters.

Following the daily doings of the Borgia family is one thing,  but making up possible events and dialogue and feelings to accompany the history is different for me because I start wondering about sources – letters and diaries and court documents?   And in the case of the Borgias much of it turns into speculation because what sources there are happen to be seriously biased.    I’m perfectly aware that several of the popes of this era produced children.  (That might have been a shocker back when I was in the 8th grade).

Using Machiavelli as a character from whom we get a decided perspective Dunant points at those events from which The Prince came.   Those are kind of “aha” moments if you’re familiar with The Prince.   (I am but I read it long ago.)

I’m also not particularly fond of over-written and cliche-ridden prose which this feels like it is, although it shines in some places.   I suppose the style fits the time and place,  I’m just not fond of that kind of rich and powerful arrogance.

On the plus side –  yes there is a plus side with several aspects  –  the characters of Lucrezia and Machiavelli are wonderfully well drawn and the Duke of Ferrera is viscerally ugly.   Seeing Lucrezia and Machiavelli presented in a sympathetic light is interesting – if not new in Lucrezia’s case.    This is no Wolf Hall with the interior dialogue of a revisionist Thomas Crowell,  although there seem to be light leanings in that direction with Machiavelli’s consideration of all that transpires around him.

The setting is abundant with the details of household life for the family, especially the women involved.  Dunant’s research shows, but it’s never obtrusive although when Leo da Vinci and Michelangelo’s David show up it along with Machiavelli it almost gets a bit much although they, along with the Borgias,  were certainly all in Rome at the time.  I was a bit confused when it came to the battles and political solutions – I suppose it came out in the end.  The health concerns are an intriguing peek into the concerns of the times.

Interesting re the historical Lucrezia Borgia and her wealth:

These are still mysterious and intriguing characters – probably impossible to tease out the truth from the plethora of evidence but legal documents can go a fair ways – sometimes.

Nicholas Boulton does an incredible job of narrating.