Wednesday, March 5, 2014

VENICE IN THE MOONLIGHT by Elizabeth McKenna: A Review

Published October 2, 2013 by Elizabeth McKenna
Paperback, 194 pages
Historical Fiction, Romance, Novella
4.5 stars out of 5

After her husband’s untimely demise, Marietta Gatti is banished from the family’s villa by her spiteful mother-in-law. She returns to her hometown of Venice and her only kin—a father she hasn’t spoken to since her forced marriage. Her hope of making amends is crushed when she learns she is too late, for he recently has died under suspicious circumstances. Grief-stricken, Marietta retraces her father’s last night only to discover someone may have wanted him dead—and she may be next. When the prime suspect turns out to be the father of the man she is falling in love with, Marietta risks her future happiness and her life to avenge the death of a man she once hated.

Elizabeth McKenna’s latest novel takes you back to the days of eighteenth century Carnival, where lovers meet discreetly, and masks make everyone equal.

Elizabeth McKenna's choice of historical setting is where this novella scored high with me: a mid-eighteenth century Venice strikes as rather unusual in a sea of 'look-alike' Regency England HRN and, for this reason, her 'clean' romance shines in an interestingly different llight. Had the author further developed her original plot into a full-length novel, exploiting with more conviction the Enlightenment theme and the atmosphere of political changes that let to the French Revolution, Venice In The Moonlight could have been a remarkable historical thriller. The potential was there...although McKenna didn't grab the opportunity, I praise her for the significant improvement of her work. Compared to Cera's Place, her first self-publishhed novel, Venice In The Moonlight features a more organic development: character arcs unfold with credible and subtle nuances, the romance builds at a fluid and natural pace.  The language sounds consistent with the time period, exception  made for a few 'modern' flaws, but, overall, McKenna's penmanship is pristine and eloquent, her voice humming with genuine  emotional vibes.

Marietta Gatti never imagined she would be a widow at twenty. Daughter of a talented but impoverished painter, she had forcefully entered marriage with a philandering and much older husband, mislead by the illusion that an ill-matched union could ultimately be better than starvation. Dario Gatti's lecherous behavior and his family's cold-heartedness were the price Marietta had to pay for her financial security. At least,  his illecit affairs had kept him (and his violent manners) out of her bed most of the nights. With her husband dead prematurely, though, her future looks grim. Cast off by her in-laws, homeless and penniless, Marietta heads back to her paternal home in Venice, just to find out that her father had died weeks before in  unclear circumstances. 

With the aid of disguises (the Carnival season with its air of secrecy  is at its peak in Venice), Marietta sets off to investigate the suspicious death of her father and her leads will take her face to face with a wealthy Venetian family and its  secret political agenda. Savio Foscari, one of the founding rulers of Venice, is too powerful an enemy to take on, but Marietta's quest for justice won't stop her from risking her life and even the possibility of a new love.  Fate just isn't on her side...the man she has set her heart on is Nico Foscari, son of that same Savio Foscari who may be responsible for her father's death.  Nico is a charming rake, a spoiled and bored aristocrat, but unlike her unfaithful husband, he doesn't use wine and women for his own pleasure as much as to mask his pain and lack of self-worth: blind since a young age, his promising world of a brilliant political career had become a sea of cloudy objects. Could Nico be involved in his father's conspiracy, despite his physical disability?

I particularly appreciate the way the author heightened the historical characterization  by use of cultural references to landmarks and iconic figures of 1750s Venice  (Casanova, Tiepolo, Voltaire). The romantic treatment is graceful and stripped of any graphic sensuality, but none the less heady and captivating.

***Review copy graciously offered by the author in return for an unbiased and honest opinion

Lorenzo Tiepolo, "Maschere Veneziane"
Pietro Longhi, "Il Rinoceronte"
Giandomenico Tiepolo, "Carnevale di Venezia con Pantalone"

Venice Carnival

For those who have had the chance to be in Venice, Italy, between Christmas and Lent, the re-enactment of the 18th century Carnival has been an extraordinary experience. The baroque celebration Venice is famous for around the world started as an annual tradition during the 1600s and 1700s, but its roots go way back in time to the Latin feast of Saturnalia and to the  Dionysian cult. 

Venetian were famous for being libertines. They used masks to take forbidden liberties not only during the official Carnival, but also throughout the year : mocking the authorities, gambling, having illicit affairs became possible behind the anonymity of a bauta (the traditional mask).

The Venetian nobility created social clubs and secret circles where they could meet discreetly to indulge in debauchery, adultery, and mischief. In 1608, though, the Serenissima  (as Venice was named in that period) had to put an end to its unbridled transgressions. The local Council forbade the use of masks except during the Carnival and official banquets. The festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 by the Austrian King.


  1. Replies
    1. My pleasure, Elizabeth! Thank you for the opportunity.

  2. Absolutely love your reviews Mina! Not only do we get to discover a new book but we get to discover bits of history that are new to many of us. Fabulous! As always, thank you for the enlightenment!

    1. Thank you, Maryellen! Reading books that re-imagine the past makes me appreciate even more the research and the creative effort a writer puts in her writing.