The Family, by Mario Puzo

April 5, 2011 at 15:34 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mediocre Books, Thriller) (, , , )


With the title and the name of the author splashed so gratuitously over the cover, it is not necessary to read the afterword to discover that Mario Puzo believed the Medieval papacy to be some kind of proto-mafia. With this entirely questionable retroactive commentary openly taking the helm, the book advertises itself rather clearly as just another pulp fiction disguised as history. Of course, this is admittedly “just” another pulp fiction written by one of the masters of the genre, and written about some of the most hotly contested and colourfully animated figures from history! Puzo does not pretend to be a brilliant historical writer, and he is not. He paints his picture in wide strokes, trotting Renaissance personalities through his circus proudly and dropping famous names at the slightest provocation. The most amusing of these is Machiavelli, who Puzo is clearly desperate to develop, yet just as clearly realises that Machiavelli has no real role in the story.

Very little of this is necessary, and thankfully none of it takes front seat. This book (despite its grandiloquent name and ambitious theme) is about precisely what it claims: a family more than a dynasty. There is a backdrop of vaguely-outlined history, but Puzo wisely stays with what he knows: the interactions between human beings. Much of this book seems like it might have been set in the 1920s, and a reader might be excused for expecting Cesare to whip out a revolver in a passionate game of cards. Mario Puzo is not the most sanitised of writers, and when dealing with such profligate characters as the Borgias, one might expect lesser writers to eagerly ladle great dollops of graphic detail about murders and sexual indiscretions alike. Remarkably, Puzo treats the whole story (including the infamous rapacity of the Borgia family) with the style of a proximate gentleman, and if he needs to acknowledge sordid deeds, then he does so without revelling in them. If he leans closer to the interpretations of some of the more salacious historians, then he can be excused, for his genre demands it; but at least he treats the characters as men and women, and if no hero is above a little blackening, then neither is any villain above redemption.


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