The Midwife of Venice – Roberta Rich

The Midwife of Venice

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Press (16 Feb 2012)
  • My Rating – 3 stars

    I have a distinct penchant for historical novels set in Italy,  especially those written by Sarah Dunant.  Therefore I was immediately attracted by the blurb for this, Roberta Rich’s debut, set in Venice in the 16th century.  It was a quick, easy read but Ms Dunant has nothing to fear – her crown remains unchallenged.

    It is 1575 and Venetian Jewess and midwife, Hannah Levi is much in demand for her birthing skills, particularly since she has devised a special instrument for assisting difficult births.  It is forbidden for Jews to attend to the medical needs of Christians but Hannah makes an exception for the Conte di Padovani’s wife – if the latter’s baby dies, Hannah risks the wrath of the Christian authorities falling on all who reside in the Jewish ghetto but if it survives, she will be able to afford the ransom to release her merchant husband, Issac, from captivity in Malta.

    The novel moves between 16th century Venice and Malta, detailing the twists and turns of Hannah and Issac’s efforts to be reunited.  The author’s research is evident in the recreation of Renaissance Venice, warts and all…rotting vegetables, vermin etc…do not expect lives of the rich and famous or modesty in actions and language although occasionally the language veers on the anachronistic, clunky side. 

    Of the two settings, I preferred Venice although you don’t get a feel for wider society beyond Hannah’s limited experience other than vague mutterings about the plague and how it affected Venice.  The Maltese location with hapless Issac taking centre stage has few saving graces apart from Sister Assunta, the zealous local nun, bent on converting all non-Christians.

    Overall I quite liked The Midwife of Venice in that it was like an historical soap opera, easygoing and not too intellectually demanding although I’m not too sure if historical-lite was the author’s intended target?   However I would have really liked more development of the main characters which could easily be accommodated by the excision of Issac – well, he didn’t do much for me… Overall, an okay read but I don’t think I will be rushing out to read more from this author.

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    1. I like the sound of the religious elements of this one, it’s a bit of a shame it was so light. A nice read for a rainy Sunday though…

    2. I agree with you about Sarah Dunnant, I love her books. Have you tried Michelle Lovric? Most of her books are set in Venice too.

    3. admin says:

      Not a bad read for a rainy Sunday which happens all too often in Ireland, Sam. ;-)

    4. admin says:

      Thanks for visiting, Victoria. I really liked The Book of Human Skin and I have a few other Lovric books anxiously waiting to be read. I think the fact that I am so enamoured with books set during this time period, particularly those set in Venice probably increased the chances of disappointment with this one as my expectations were high. :(

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