Review

Lucrezia Borgia

by John Faunce



Even though I'm not a Catholic, it seems almost sacrilegious to be
reading John Faunce's historical fiction, LUCREZIA BORGIA, as I am,
during Lent. It's a story about the almost mythic femme fatale,
yes, but also one of the darkest days of the Catholic Church ---
the reign of Pope Alexander VI.

In his first novel, Faunce has given us a wildly sensationalistic
retelling of the lives of the Borgias, viewed through the eyes of
Lucrezia, acknowledged daughter of Roderigo, who became Pope
Alexander VI in 1492. These were the days when a Pope had more
financial and military power than did many kings. Those unfamiliar
with Renaissance-era papal history may be surprised, even shocked,
to learn of the goings-on at the Vatican. The debauchery included,
at the more pleasant end, huge Dionysian banquets and ranged from
sex to murder, all of which Lucrezia was a proud participant. She,
however, was not the most notorious member of the Borgia family.
That honor belonged to her brother Cesare, who first serves as
Cardinal of Valenica, then becomes a bloodthirsty, gold-mongering
pseudo-emperor.

As was common for noblewomen of her day, Lucrezia's marriages
served more of a political end than a romantic one. Her first
husband, the comparatively elderly (37) Giovanni Sforza, provided
her with a measure of admiration and security, if not the carnal
bliss she craved. Since no heir was apparent in three years time,
the marriage was quickly annulled and Lucrezia declared a "virga
intacta," not quite as hard as it sounds, considering her father
was the Pope. Faunce neglects most of the political action and
instead exploits the erotic liaisons between Lucrezia and Giovanni,
then Lucrezia and Alphonso (husband #2) and then Lucrezia and
another Alphonso (husband #3).

Her truest love is the first Alphonso, whom she describes upon
first glancing at him as "clean-shaven; his brunette hair slouched
in an arousing wave across his forehead. He had the body of an
eighteen-year old --- as had I --- the physical perfection of all
my girlish fantasies. I prayed he'd find me his analogous female."
He does find her perfect, perhaps to his later dismay as he meets a
messy and untimely end at the hand of her brother, Cesare.

While definitely leaning more toward the titillating than the
educational, Faunce does pepper his purple prose with a number of
interesting historical details. The dinner following one of
Lucrezia's weddings was an exact replica of the dinner following
the wedding of Augustus Caesar's sister. The menu included "swan
skin stuffed with forcemeats" for the men and for the women, "foods
the ancients thought especially conducive to conception" such as
"stuffed pigeons and squid stuffed with veal brains." Yum. We also
witness marriage rites such as the "Visigoth ceremony" where a
bridegroom has intercourse with his naked bride in full view of
hundreds of wedding guests. What would Martha Stewart have to say
about this?

Faunce is a movie producer and screenwriter, not a historian, so at
times LUCREZIA BORGIA is about as far from history as one could
get. His prose is unctuous and for the most part entertaining,
although a tad overblown at times. It is several steps above your
average bodice-ripper and just may be coming soon to a theater near
you.

Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran on January 22, 2011

Lucrezia Borgia
by John Faunce

  • Publication Date: March 23, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press
  • ISBN-10: 1400051223
  • ISBN-13: 9781400051229