A me­dieval woman’s work is never done

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE -

pope’s con­fi­dante.

While she and Pe­trarch carry on an im­pas­sioned af­fair, how­ever, an­other woman is pub­licly cel­e­brated as his muse in the tra­di­tion of courtly love.

Al­though Solange is a fic­tional char­ac­ter, Laura’s role as Pe­trarch’s muse is well doc­u­mented by his­to­ri­ans.

Ac­cord­ing to clas­si­cal mythol­ogy, the Muses were re­spon­si­ble for lit­er­ary and po­etic in­spi­ra­tion.

With Solange and Laura in­spir­ing Pe­trarch’s writ­ings in such dif­fer­ent ways, car­nally as op­posed to spir­i­tu­ally, Novik de­vel­ops a whore-madonna di­chotomy through­out the novel.

Though the author’s Mag­da­lene-vir­gin com­par­isons are not sub­tle, she works through them in sur­pris­ing ways.

Solange’s piety and Laura’s in­fi­delity are com­pletely un­ex­pected in those glo­ri­ous mo­ments when th­ese two women chal­lenge the sta­tus quo with delightful and shock­ing re­sults.

Novik skil­fully writes the ori­gins of the early Re­nais­sance with a fem­i­nist point of view. Pe­trarch is even­tu­ally crowned the first poet lau­re­ate in Rome since an­cient times, yet be­fore he meets ei­ther of his muses he is a writer with­out a scribe or a pa­tron.

Even as he en­thralls them, nei­ther Solange nor Laura re­lies on Pe­trarch en­tirely. He is as slip­pery as the eels he feeds Solange to in­cite her vi­sions.

As lit­er­ary fic­tion, Muse is an il­lu­mi­nat­ing por­trait of women strug­gling to have it all, in­clud­ing lovers, chil­dren, for­tune and promi­nence, de­spite what­ever pain they en­dure.

Solange re­peat­edly suf­fers ac­cu­sa­tions of sor­cery, but Novik works her own magic once again with this must-read ef­fort.

JANET BAX­TER PHOTO

Novik de­liv­ers a bril­liant snap­shot.

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