The Remedy (2005): Michelle Lovric

★★★★

Venetian convents are famous above all things for their laxity, with sweets and cakes; visitors; fine fashions; and beautiful music. But the headstrong young woman we meet at the start of The Remedy isn’t interested in the things that come in to the convent, so much as in how to get out. She has been confined within the walls of S. Zaccaria by her noble parents, quite unfairly of course, after allegedly bringing shame on the family. Since good behaviour hasn’t made an ounce of difference to her prospects, bad behaviour might just be her ticket back out into the world. After all, everyone knows that discerning gentlemen can make donations to certain convents in exchange for the company of nuns. Such arrangements take place at S. Zaccaria and our narrator is confident that her well-bred beauty will find her a lover who’ll whisk her away. Alas! When her plans are betrayed, leaving her ruined and furious, our narrator’s prospects seem darker than ever. But then the state’s spymasters make her an offer she can’t refuse: to have her crimes wiped clean in return for service as one of their agents. A pitch-perfect tale of double-dealing, murder, sex, and opera in 18th-century Venice and London, written in sumptuous prose, this deeply satisfying period romp never quite lets you forget the grit under its fingernails.

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