For how thy memory has lingered on-
In spite of cruelest winter's drear and howl-
By inner mirror seen; I've dwelled upon,
I must confess, my treachery most foul.
Did Shakespeare pen a series of passionate sonnets, unknown to modern scholarship, ardently praising a mysterious dark-haired beauty? This tantalizing question is raised in a letter to literature professor Rose Asher. But the letter's author, Rose's star pupil, is not telling. A troubled, enigmatic young man, he plunged to his death in front of the college's entire faculty, an apparent suicide. Determined to find the truth, Rose journeys from New York to Italy, back to the magnificent Tuscan villa where as an undergraduate she first fell in love.
La Civetta is a dreamlike place, resplendent with the heady scent of lemon trees and the sunset's ocher wash across its bricks and cobbles. Once there Rose finds her first love still in residence. Torn between her mission and her rekindled feelings, Rose becomes enmeshed in a treacherous tangle of secrets and scandal. A folio containing what some believe to be one of Shakespeare's lost sonnets has vanished, and literary immortality awaits whoever finds the manuscript-as do a vast Italian estate and a Hollywood movie deal. Uncertain whom she can trust and where she can turn, Rose races against time and unseen enemies in a bid to find the missing masterpiece.
Lush, lyrical, and enthralling, The Sonnet Lover vividly brings to life the Tuscan countryside and the fascinating world of the Renaissance poets. Unmatched in her ability to evoke atmosphere and intrigue, Carol Goodman delivers her most ambitious and satisfying work to date, a seductive novel that skillfully propels its reader headlong to the final suspenseful page.
From the Hardcover edition.
Goodman (The Ghost Orchid) turns to Shakespeare for the plot of her fifth novel, with mixed results. Rose Asher, Hudson College Renaissance poetry professor, returns to La Civetta, the Italian estate-turned-academic retreat where, as a college student 20 years earlier, she had the romance of her life with married professor Bruno Brunelli. He's still there, but this time Rose has come as an adviser on a film inspired by Shakespeare's sonnets and the mysterious "Dark Lady" therein. The script, which includes an unattributed Shakespeare-like sonnet (taken from a manuscript found at La Civetta), is by one of Rose's star pupils, Robin Weiss, who soon dies in a possibly suicidal accident. The manuscript has vanished, but the sonnet seems to suggest that Ginevra de Laura, the 16th-century daughter of a master mosaic artist who worked at the estate, may be its author-and Shakespear's Dark Lady. Multiple plots and subplots revolve around the manuscript's recovery, Robin's death, the film, Rose's clandestine relationship with college president Mark Abrams, Bruno's presence and worries that Bruno's son, Orlando, may be a murderer. Goodman makes a plausible fictional case for Ginevra's crossing paths with Shakespeare and ably recreates the present and past Italian countryside. Nevertheless, dizzying crisscrosses, love triangles and rampant political machinations surrounding La Civetta's ownership obscure an intriguing solution to the lingering Dark Lady mystery. (June) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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June 10, 2007
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Excerpt from The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman
The most thankless job on the planet may well be teaching Renaissance love poetry to a group of hormone-dazed adolescents on a beautiful spring day. I had saved up against just such a day, through the deep snows of February, the sleets of March, and April's endless deluge, one of the most popular and accessible of Shakespeare's sonnets, but I might as well have been reciting the Dow Jones Industrial Average for all the impact the Bard's words were having on the class. Even Robin Weiss, my best student, was more interested in the sunbathers and Frisbee players cavorting five stories below us in Washington Square Park than in answering my last question.
"I'm sorry," he says, his eyes still on the sun-splashed scene outside the window. "Could you repeat the question?"
"I asked what you thought of Shakespeare's promise to his beloved to immortalize him through art."
"Hmph." Robin begins by ejecting a disdainful breath of air. "I think of it the way I think of most lovers' promises, that he 'speaks an infinite deal of nothing.' "
A chorus of sighs from the girls in the back row greets Robin's pronouncement. Had they all had their hearts broken recently? I wonder. Perhaps by Robin himself? Weren't they a little young to be giving up on love? But then I remember that this is exactly the age that feels love's disappointment the most keenly, the age when one might forswear love, never guessing there might come a day when one is forsworn by love.
"So you don't think that art provides immortality?" I ask, unwilling to let Robin hide behind the world-weary pose he's worn, along with a vintage Versace tweed jacket lined in yellow silk, since returning from the fall semester in Florence. I still remembered the fervor he'd had in Freshman Comp. He was going to be a playwright because, he said, to have your words spoken on the stage after your death meant you'd never truly be dead. I knew he'd switched his ambition to filmmaker since then and had spent his time in Italy making a film that the whole campus was talking about. In fact, tonight it was to be shown at the Hudson College Invitational Film Show, where it was expected to win first prize. Was Robin already jaded by success?
Turning from the sun toward me, though, his face looks not so much jaded as bruised. His pale blue eyes are dilated and bloodshot, his full lips are chapped and swollen, and his delicate skin is chafed and raw. His sandy brown hair looks as wild as the signature Medusa heads on the buttons of his jacket. I'm used to my students looking haggard around finals time, but Robin looks as if he'd spent the last week weeping. I would happily let him off the hook--especially since I can tell by the shuffling of books and shouldering of backpacks and by my watch, which lies on the desk in front of me, that the class's hour is drawing to an end--but Robin chooses to answer my question with a question. Or rather, two questions.
"If you lost someone you loved, would reading something about him--or by him--lessen the loss one iota? Wouldn't you trade all the poems and all the plays in all the world for just five minutes with him again?"
"Well," I begin, intending to deal with Robin's questions as I usually deal with difficult--or in this case, unanswerable--questions in class: by turning it back to the student. Maybe even assigning it as an essay topic. But Robin is looking at me as though he really expects an answer. As if he'd been offered this Faustian bargain last night at the Cedar Tavern and there's a sinister-looking man in a dark overcoat waiting in the hall for his answer. All of literature for five minutes with your lost beloved? Even the class's incipient rustling, which should have swept us all out of here like a late November rainstorm cleaning out the dead leaves, has been stilled by Robin's urgency.