The Venetian's Wife: A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis

The Venetian's Wife: A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis

4.7 4
by Nick Bantock

Nick Bantock's illustrated novel, The Venetian's Wife, is part love story, part mystery, and part ghostly tale—and an altogether bewitching brew of sensuality and lost treasures. Thoroughly bored with her job at the local museum, Sarah heads to the gallery to take another look at that new drawing, the one she can't stop thinking about, the one of the

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Nick Bantock's illustrated novel, The Venetian's Wife, is part love story, part mystery, and part ghostly tale—and an altogether bewitching brew of sensuality and lost treasures. Thoroughly bored with her job at the local museum, Sarah heads to the gallery to take another look at that new drawing, the one she can't stop thinking about, the one of the Hindu god Shiva, who dances...That's when it all begins. The next day, an e-mail message brings her a job offer: to find the few remaining pieces of a 15th-century adventurer's renowned collection of Indian sculptures. Her employer, curiously, wishes to communicate only by computer. She has no idea who he is or why he wants her. But other mysteries soon preoccupy her, such as the meaning of an enigmatic illuminated manuscript—and the sensual transformation that seems to be overtaking her. Through her quirkily decorated diary and the artful e-mail exchanges between Sara and her mentor, Nick Bantock has conjured up a richly illustrated tale of a relentless quest, an amorous legacy, and the resonating power of art—a lush, romantic adventure of the soul that tantalizes the reader to the last line.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The subtitle of this oversized, lavishly illustrated volume confirms that we are once again in the kind of quasi-mythical kingdom that provided the setting for writer and illustrator Bantok's bestselling Griffin and Sabine series. Phrased thusly: "A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis,'' the subtitle also suggests a major difference in this work: the traditional epistolary tools (letters and postcards) that were the vehicles of communication in the trilogy are here replaced by e-mail messages exchanged by the two protagonists. Fans of the trilogy may not be disappointed that Bantok repeats himself in another respect, however. The situation that bridges time and place is nearly identical to that of the previous books; that is, one of the protagonists is contacted by the other, whom she does not know, but who seems to be able to read her mind. In this case, San Francisco art conservator Sara Wolfe, who is fascinated by a drawing of the Indian god Shiva hanging on the walls of the museum where she works, receives an e-mail message from one N. Conti, who somehow is aware of her obsession and offers her a job traveling around the world assembling Indian art for his collection. The narrative proceeds via these e-mail messages and through the protagonists' entries into their computer journals. In this story, however, Sara and Conti are not fated to be lovers. The latter, in fact, is the ghost of a real-life figure, wealthy Renaissance merchant and indefatigable traveler Niccolo Dei Conti, who died in 1469 and needs Sara's help in order to be reunited with his wife, Yasod, in the afterlife. And Sara, with Conti's help, discovers her own destined mate, a colleague called Marco (surely Bantok's humorous reference to another fabled traveler). The mysteries around which the plot hingeConti's identity and his ultimate purpose in reassembling his collectionare suspensefully maintained, augmented by Bantok's intensely colorful and often sensual illustrations. If Bantok has essentially chosen to repeat his winning formula, he has again produced another handsome volume that readers can enjoy. Author tour. (Oct.)

Product Details

Chronicle Books LLC
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.62(d)

Read an Excerpt

The year is 1469. Niccolo Dei Conti stands atop the steep hill that overlooks his villa on the outskirts of Venice. He clenches his fists, raises his arms to the heavens and bellows with anger and frustration at the storm raging around him. He demands that the lightning strike him down and rid him of his old age and loneliness. The storm is unobliging.

Soaked to the skin and exhausted, he returns to his lifeless villa and enters via the kitchen, leaving behind him the open door. He sits at the worn table and stares out at the night, ignoring the thunder claps, blinking only when the flashes of brilliant white light fill the door frame.

He's considering the solitude of his wifeless bed when a visitor arrives. She moves like Mercury, circling the room, touching with golden fingers the pots, pans, candle holders and all things metal. She discovers the knife that Niccolo Dei Conti's hand rests on, and because his feet are firmly planted on the floor she burns out his heart.

Niccolo Dei Conti has his wish; lightning has separated his spirit from his tired body. But his journey is not over. He has been a traveler all his life and he still has far to go.

It happened again. Stopped in the India Room to look at that Shiva drawing. The second I laid eyes on it I started to sweat. My legs went rubbery and my heart started pumping frantically. I had the disconcerting sensation that four hands were stroking and examining my body. I know it lasted only a few seconds but it felt eternal.

After the hands were gone I was very shaky. I glanced over my shoulder at the guard in the corner seat. He was looking squinty at me. I could feel my face flush, and I panicked and rushed out of the room.

I must stay away from that picture.

Getting aroused always has been pointless for me.

From: Mr. N. Conti

To: Sara Wolfe

Ms. Wolfe,

I couldn't help but notice how fascinated you were by the Reverend Charles Bacon's drawing of the Deccan Shiva. It has a deal of power, does it not?

Thought you might like to see this page from Bacon's personal notebook. If you find it intriguing, I'd be happy to furnish you with additional information.

N. Conti

This is embarrassing.

Is this embarrassing?

Maybe it isn't.

Someone else must have been in the room while I was looking at the Shiva. Could he have guessed what was going on inside me? Surely not. It wasn't as if I gave any outward signs of turmoil until I was leaving. The guard was the only person I was aware of in the room. This Conti person must have come and gone while I fixated on the drawing. How does he know who I am? I guess it would have been easy enough to figure out that I work for the museum and then he could easily get my name. That's hardly alarming. I'm just feeling self-conscious because of my response to the Shiva.

Bacon page is interesting. Particularly the first two lines. What does "embodiment" imply? I presume Bacon made his drawings from the original sculpture. I wonder where that is now? Could Bacon have owned it? I'm curious. I have Mr. Conti's E-mail address; I could contact him and ask for more information.

What if he could tell what was happening to me? No, I've already decided that's not possible. Why am I such a coward? Of course I can ask him about Reverend Bacon's odd notebook.

If the museum work was half as intriguing as this Bacon thing I'd be perfectly happy, but it isn't. God! I swear I'm going to take a scalpel to the next second-rate canvas I'm asked to "conserve" all over. To have spent four grueling years studying classical painting techniques and chemistry just to be told to salvage mediocre Victorian portraits is downright demeaning. Surely I can put my eyes and brain to better use. At least I can keep my own images alive in here.

Awake by four a.m. again. I wish I slept better. Five hours' sleep just isn't enough. These middle of the night conversations with myself are so inane. It doesn't matter if I pay the phone bill by mail or in person, nor will the universe implode if I fail to paint the door the perfect shade of blue.

What am I avoiding?

From: S. Wolfe

To: Mr. N. Conti

Mr. Conti,

Thank you for the unusual document. It is kind of you to have taken notice of my interest in the Deccan Shiva. Yes, I would like to know more about both the drawing and the Reverend Bacon. Who was he? Are there further pages? And if you don't consider it overly prying, I'd like to ask how you know about this piece--the museum has the drawing listed as Artist Unknown.


Sara Wolfe

From: Mr. N. Conti

To: Sara Wolfe

Ms. Wolfe,

I wish to offer you a job.

It is a peculiar response to your request for more information, I realize, but I ask you to consider my proposal with an open mind.

I know a degree about you from my formal inquiries (I hope you don't mind, but I couldn't risk error). And your response encouraged me to conclude that you're exactly the person I'm looking for.

My needs are uncomplicated. I wish to employ a bright, able-bodied person with the right kind of eye to help me locate some very specific art works.

You fit those requirements admirably, and I'm inclined to believe that you are at a stage in your career where you need an extra challenge. Also, your preoccupation with the Shiva suggested a sympathy above and beyond mere academic interest.

The job I'm offering you will require resourcefulness, imagination, willingness to travel, plus a deep love of artifact. The salary would be substantially higher than the one you receive at present.

Also, I would have you supplied with a new computer system. Travel for me is no longer possible and as the computer is my chosen method of conducting business, I would require you to have a compatible system.

I don't think I've misjudged your potential for change. And I look forward to hearing from you again.

As for the Bacon notes: Yes, there are more, but I will withhold them as an additional temptation. Being a very old man I have no problem indulging myself in a little harmless emotional blackmail when it suits my purpose.

Yours very respectfully,

N. Conti

I cannot deny it. I am ready for change. And yes I do find this offer of a new job exciting. But can I really be taking this seriously? I haven't a clue who this man is. What proof do I have that it's not a hoax? I hate the idea of being made a fool of.

Admittedly, the Bacon page seemed real enough and Mr. Conti's quirky approach to employee selection is endearingly different.

I could write again, sort of noncommittally, and ask for more information about the offer. That way I might get a better idea of how genuine this all is.

I can't believe I'm doing this.

Mother phoned to say that she and Tom were back from Maui and were thinking of buying a condo there. The only way they could afford to do that would be to sell the house. I wish Dad were here to stop her. He rebuilt that place single-handed. It's bad enough Tom living there, but the thought of the family losing the house altogether makes me feel positively sick. Even Mother couldn't trade our home in for never-ending happy hour.

I'm taking this too seriously. After all, she'll never get around to doing it. It's another of her pipe-dreams.

Going up to the plaster room this morning, I heard a noise coming from a window alcove down the hallway. I thought maybe another pigeon's got in, oh hell I'm going to have to try and usher it back out of the window, I hate all that panic and flutter.

I moved cautiously, not wanting to frighten it any further, but when I put my head around the corner, there was no bird--only Marco pouring out a bowl of chocolate milk for a big old ginger cat that was jumping down from the windowsill. From the way they greeted one another it was obvious they were old acquaintances. I remembered that I'd often seen Marco buying chocolate milk at the deli during lunch break but I'd never seen him drink it.

Marco and his friend were mewing at one another and I suddenly felt uncomfortable watching the intimacy between the ancient cat and my crouched workmate. I retraced my steps down the hallway as silently as I was able. I was sure Marco hadn't heard me, but later in the registrar's meeting I noticed him staring at me, and when our eyes met, he looked away. It's not the first time he's done that so I can't be sure if he knew I'd seen him petting his companion.

We've worked together for close to two-and-a-half years and I doubt if we've passed ten words, but I'm always aware when he's in the room. I remember how he tried to talk to me when I first arrived at the museum but I felt so shy I could barely respond, and he gave up almost immediately. Idiot!

From: S. Wolfe

To: Mr. N. Conti

Mr. Conti,

Thank you for your kind offer of employment.

You will understand I find a proposal of this nature rather unusual, and I admit I'm at something of a loss to know how to respond.

If you furnish me with a little more information, it might possibly help me overcome my fear that this is an elaborate joke at my expense. Also, please, can you explain why you want a conservator and not a professional researcher?

Excuse my caution.


Sara Wolfe

From: Mr. N. Conti

To: Sara Wolfe


You are right to be cautious. I certainly have been, and I expect no less of you in return.

Later today you will receive an indication that any expense will fall on me. But till then please permit me to give you further information about the notebook's author.

The Reverend Bacon was an Englishman, a bookish curate, who studied European travelers in Asia during the Quattrocento. He stumbled on a number of references to my family's art collection, became intrigued, and set out to discover what happened to it. His research took him fifteen years, but eventually he established a fairly accurate catalogue of the collection that belonged to the merchant explorer Niccolo Dei Conti. He also chronicled the Conti family's failed attempts to keep the collection intact.

I am in the process of rebuilding that collection and cannot allow myself rest until I have reunited the pieces. Of the forty-two sculptures, I've re-acquired thirty-eight. The remaining four pieces elude me. If it were simply a question of money there would be no difficulty. The problem is one of discovery. I cannot buy what I cannot find. I want you to help me unearth these pieces. As I have said, I will pay you handsomely, but it is likely that acceptance of my proposal will lead to a far greater reward than money.

Even in its partial form the Reverend Bacon's history of the Conti collection is quite precise and as good as any account I might give. So I enclose some more pages from his damaged notebook (the Bacon vicarage was bombed during the Great War and only a fragment of his writings survived the subsequent fire), which I ask you to read receptively. I say that because you will see that Bacon came to believe the body of the collection had certain strange properties, including a capacity to alter those who embraced its spirit.

I understand, Sara, that to give up your safe job and ally yourself with a mysterious old man, whom you may never see, is asking a lot. However, I have enormous faith in your latent adventurousness.

Professional researchers are all well and good, but this is a task that requires a subtle sensibility that is both and neither academic or artistic.

I look forward to hearing from you.


N. Conti

Curiouser and curiouser.

What a fascinating prospect, dogging the Reverend's footsteps, hunting down these errant sculptures. An art gumshoe, traveling around, seeing unexpected places, smelling new air, eating different foods--it certainly would be a way of getting out of my rut.

Sara, you're being . . . What?

I'm being ridiculous. I'm letting my imagination run away with me. This is a fantasy. I'm falling for a trick of some kind.

Why do I let myself get so carried away? I have a good job at a museum. I was desperate to get that job--why would I give it up for some daydream that has probably been hatched by a crazy person?

But the Bacon notes are so alluring.

What do I do?

If I look up Niccolo Conti, I can at least establish whether Mr. Conti's ancestor actually existed or whether this is all an elaborate fabrication.

Found this in Chamberlain's World Travelers and Explorers:

NICCOLO DEI CONTI (1395 - 1469)


Only partially edifying. At least it verifies Mr. Conti's story of his antecedent. What about Mr. Conti himself?

I don't believe this. A courier just turned up and asked me to sign for a delivery. I did so (assuming it was my supply of gold leaf from the Chicago art store). He started bringing boxes from a truck. I thought Oh no. I've ordered enough of the stuff to decorate the dome of a mosque.

The boxes contain a computer system. It must be worth thirty thousand dollars. It came with a note saying:

My computer is finding yours a bit antiquated. This is a gift. Accepting the job is not prerequisite.


N. Conti

This is quite, quite bizarre.

Meet the Author

Nick Bantock is the author of numerous illustrated novels, including Griffin & Sabine, Sabine's Notebook, The Golden Mean, The Gryphon, and Alexandria, which together spent 100 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Born in England, he now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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