In my mid-forties, the physical experience of a book is becoming more and more significant to my reading experience. Secrecy by Other Press was a joy for the eyes from the start. The title begins with the tracery of a medieval illuminated initial. The cover stock is thick and a flap folds in for the publisher’s plot teaser. The stock itself seems aged and water-stained. Designer Archie Ferguson seems to have designed a cover that catered directly to me. When I opened the pages, the physical pleasure of the book continued. The print size is large without seeming like it was meant for my grandmother and the margins are large. My eyes smiled.
Secrecy is a quick read, perhaps in part due to the larger print size, but also due to a quick story without too many intricate details that require re-reading. Zummo is a Sicilian wax sculptor who fled home in the wake of rumors of necrophilia. His brother tormented him throughout their childhood and there is some question about Zummo’s parentage. He begins the story with a visit to a nun, the wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo III of the infamous Medici Florence. The novel is the story he tells her and her response. Cosimo became Zummo’s patron, commissioning grotesquely beautiful works recreating the decay of the plague that haunted seventeenth-century Italy. He also makes a secret commission–a beautiful woman–that seems to contradict all of Cosimo’s harsh prohibitions against adultery and sodomy and various other sexual sins. Because it is seventeenth-century Italy the villain is, of course, an evil hypocritical Dominican friar, Stufa. Zummo demonstrates the depths of his humanity in a foil to Stufa’s inhumanity and we know a showdown is looming. Add a beautiful apothecary’s niece whose own parentage is also in question and the triangle is complete.
Secrecy‘s plot is not demanding. For someone who enjoys this time period, reading this beautifully designed novel was like curling up with a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough–comforting, yummy, and easy to swallow if not all that nutritious.