What I’m reading: Erotic tales across the centuries


In Renaissance Ferrara, young Serafino is talent-spotted as a promising artist and apprenticed to a series of high-profile painters, culminating in Michelangelo, who has been commissioned to paint a chapel ceiling for the Pope. Michelangelo, like other artists and apprentices, is jealous of Fino and abuses him. A new patron rescues him, and his love life acquires a new intensity.

500 years later, Parker Henderson, teenage son of the newly appointed American consul in Florence, falls intensely in love with a boy in his school class and uncovers a link to the sixteenth-century painter, whose home is now the consul’s residence.

Paolo Grossi’s first full-length novel is an easy, lightly erotic read. Stories written in the present tense tend to raise my hackles, and the author’s prose style here lacks the refinement that hallmarked his previous collection of Berlin stories. I would have liked a stronger contrast between the Renaissance scenes and the modern ones; the period dialogue needed to be a bit more archaic.

There’s a brief scene when the consul’s son is subjected to the attentions of an ageing celebrity painter, and the tone of the book changes subtly. I would have welcomed more of this, but the passionate encounters of teenage lovers across the centuries plainly have a stronger appeal to today’s readers.

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