Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that have been waiting on the ‘to be read’ pile for however long, and are finally getting an airing.
This week I’m revisiting an audiobook narrated by the brilliant Julia Whelan. It was released in September 2015 by Brilliance Audio.
Elena Spira is sent to Venice by her father to nurse Samuel Farber, a man from a wealthy family, who was badly beaten while in Rome. He is the guest of his good friend, Nero Basilio, who owns the Casa Basilio, while he recuperates. He also has epilepsy, which Elena is under instruction to keep secret from all at the Casa. In those days the condition was misunderstood and deemed to have it’s roots in insanity.
Elena is excited to be travelling, although escaping the shame of her mistakes was her father’s idea. But Venice in cold and damp November is not living up to expectations, much like the Casa Basilio which looks neglected and miserable, situated as it is in an area of abandoned, derelict properties and fetid, foul-smelling canals. As much as she wants to turn tail and leave, Elena is constrained by the aftermath of the scandal, which has led to her present situation. Her family is relying on her to heal Samuel and bring him home for his arranged wedding and she is determined to do everything she can for Samuel.
Samuel proves to be a difficult patient, more intent on self-destruction than anything else. He has no wish to marry someone chosen by his parents, and resists the cures Elena advocates. His addiction to the pain relieving laudanum supplied by the unwelcoming and unhelpful housekeeper, Giulia, is his only respite from the pain. Samuel suffers from hallucinations and believes an angel speaks to him. Elena soon becomes aware of the dark and tragic atmosphere of the Casa. She is witness to strange happenings, the bone chilling cold and scent of vanilla which manifests intermittently.
He muttered something. His voice was almost demonic, and so quiet I had to strain to hear it. When he spoke again, it was in another language, but even I understood the threat in it. I stepped back in sudden fear. The icy cold turned my breath to frosty clouds. I remembered Madame Basilio’s words about not waking him from his singing and his angel. I said softly, “You should be in bed.”
Samuel looked up, his eyes in the darkness showing the moonlight the way a cat’s did-a full and empty reflection-and then they rolled back, only whites. He gasped, a choking gargle of sound, his back arching with deadly force, so that he looked to break in half. He began to convulse.
When Nero arrives at the Casa, Elena finds herself in a situation she had never envisaged. It opens up possibilities she had not considered or even thought about. But the darkness becomes ever more oppressive and dangerous.
I did enjoy the story. The pace is quite slow and steady without much in the way of twists, and could possibly have been condensed slightly. Tension does begin to build ultimately though, as the dark and disturbing undercurrent escalates to a tragic and completely surprising ending. I love when that happens! Elena, Samuel and Nero all have secrets and are haunted by their pasts and Elena’s struggles looking after Samuel are convincingly written. The Venetian period setting is beautifully detailed, including the clothes, food and medical treatments. Characters are well drawn, disturbing and flawed, the atmosphere creepy. Elena wonders why some of the inhabitants of the Casa, most particularly Giulia and Nero’s aunt, Madame Basilio, obviously don’t want her there.
The writing is strong and expressive, with all the elements of a gothic novel. I wasn’t particularly fond of the romantic triangle, the attraction between Elena and Nero was unconvincing. As a character, I much preferred Samuel for all his faults.
On reflection, I’m glad I was listening. Julia Whelan’s excellent narration and characterisations give the book an energy boost and allows for more much more positives than negatives. Ms Whelan injects an appealing and vulnerable side to Elena’s initially dispassionate and straight-laced character. The Gothic style of narrative is done well, with the added extra of the paranormal aspect. I’ll definitely be reading, or listening to, more of Megan Chance’s work.
About the Book
After she nearly ruins her family with a terrible misstep, Elena Spira is sent to Venice to escape disgrace and to atone by caring for the ailing Samuel Farber. But the crumbling and decaying Ca’ Basilio palazzo, where Samuel is ensconced, holds tragic secrets, and little does Elena know how profoundly they will impact her. Soon she begins to sense that she is being watched by something. And when Samuel begins to have hallucinations that make him violent and unpredictable, she can’t deny she’s in mortal danger.