A novel guide to Venice
This is indeed a novel guide to Venice. More precisely a thriller that guides you through Venice highlighting mysterious details and layers of history like a novel guide to the city.
‘Venetia’ by Simon Barnes is a supernatural thriller set in Venice. There is lots of suspense, mystery and paranormal activities in the captivating plot, where a modern English family is whirled into an ancient crime bridging horror with archaeology and religion. Yet it is not a good thrill I’m after, but the meticulous descriptions of Venice past and present.
Simon Barnes is familiar with the self-reflecting surfaces of the water and the fog softening reality in a shroud of light around midnight. He can evoke the salty smell of the sea, the quiet of a carless city and the sound of water lapping against petrified wooden poles. He knows his way around the islands and is able to point out places and details that make history come to life.
I enjoyed following ‘Venetia’ around Campo Arsenale and out to the islands San Michele and Lazzaretto Nuovo, where the narrative past and present meet. It’s interesting to read about the shipyards and armories that used to be one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises. The convents with their parallel societies oscillating between the sacred and the profane. Burials tucked away at a dedicated cemetery island. And the fear of the plague that led to the introduction of a compulsory 40 day quarantine on Lazzaretto Nuovo, before travelers were admitted to the city.
But most of all I liked reading about the secret signs that can be found all over the city – from ancient wall plaques to guarding lions with runic symbols and merchant logos in the old warehouses. You feel like a semiotic on a field trip.
‘Venetia’ is a bit like Dan Brown’s ‘Angles and Demons’ transferred to Venice. A highly entertaining mix of fact and fiction in a recognizable historic and geographic setting. As such it would make a great travel companion for anyone in need of a page-turning guidebook to Venice.