In her latest novel, Sarah Dunant returns to the Borgias, that flamboyant family of 15th-century clerics and cutthroats, a larger-than-life clan that includes Pope Alexander VI, also known as Rodrigo; his son Cesare, a reluctant cardinal turned conqueror; and the infamous Lucrezia, whose reputation Dunant has done much to restore. In Dunant’s view, Lucrezia isn’t nearly as bad as, say, Victor Hugo or Alexander Dumas led us to believe — or Donizetti in his opera. And historians now agree, having dismissed as gossip the notion of Lucrezia as a murderer with a love of poison.
To a degree, “In the Name of the Family” has less excitement than its predecessor, “Blood and Beauty,” in which Dunant followed the rise of Rodrigo as pontiff, describing his galvanic lust for attention, for women, for power, and his willingness to make use of his helpless daughter, who becomes a pawn in his machinations, forced to marry men who would advance her father’s worldly kingdom. To compensate, Dunant has added another character, Niccolò Machiavelli, author of “The Prince,” who provides us, at the outset, with a snapshot of the Italy of his time, a boot whose surface has been “discolored by the vicissitudes of history.” This is a reminder that the action will take place centuries before unification, that the Italy of the period is still a loose collection of city-states, each with its own internal tensions, its own rivals and potential invaders. In the midst of all this, the Borgias have risen, a family with a talent for conquest — just the sort of people to captivate Machiavelli, the master of expediency. It’s material that, in the hands of a gifted storyteller like Dunant, will captivate readers. (Read more.)Share