(HarperCollins Publishers, 2010)
Just reading the author’s name is enough to conjure of visions of illustrious Italian power and wealth, as any history buff could tell you. But what you don’t expect is more than competent, even skilful, writing from a Borghese descendant who now makes a living selling a line of luxury pet products, and who is a New Yorker. Further from the golden age of 18th century French and Italian nobility, with lands, castles, armies and blue blood, you cannot get. The prince – looking pretty much like a tall, dark and handsome storybook prince should – even featured as the bachelor on the ninth season of ABC’s The Bachelor TV show. The prince’s biography does not inspire confidence in his literary abilities, but he does have the most important qualification to produce a novel on this particular subject:- a direct line of descent from Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose tragic life and arresting beauty made her the femme fatale of her day.
The Borghese Villa was nationalized by the Italian Government in 1903, and is now a museum, and in it, prominently, is the sculpture of Pauline by Antonio Canova – tempting and topless and uncannily lifelike. It caused a scandal at the time that Canova created it, yet, in the author’s hands, the sculpture serves as a theme to the novel, illustrating both Pauline’s beauty, her willful, independent nature, and the effect she had on the people around her, and also the enduring love between her and her husband, Prince Camillo Borghese. She was after all, just the sister of an upstart general, descended from minor nobility of Tuscan origin, nothing like centuries-old House of Borghese, with its noble and papal background. The question posed in the novel is:- would Pauline rise above her roots and become a true princess?
The chapter in which Prince Lorenzo Borghese describes his first view of Canova’s sculpture, in what was once the home of his ancestors, is one of the most moving in the book, and the ending is one of the best I’ve recently read in an historical novel. He gives a rounded character to Pauline Borghese, showing how someone given great wealth and power, but not born into it, can be both greedy and magnanimous, self-indulgent yet unfulfilled. The enduring passion between Pauline and her husband is described with a deft and self-assured touch, as are the details of their lives in and around Rome. It is told from the perspective of Pauline’s lady-in-waiting and distant relative, who is one of the few characters in the novel that is not a historical figure. It is a light read, but pleasing in many ways, not least for the dedication, which reads: “This book is dedicated to my mother and father, who have been married for more than forty years. They have taught me that communication is the secret to a successful marriage. Without it, love cannot grow, nor can it be complete.”
Author profile – Wikipedia
Lorenzo Borghese, born June 9, 1972,, also known as Prince Lorenzo Borghese, is an Italian-American businessman. He is a member of the House of Borghese, a cosmetics entrepreneur and animal advocate. He is the son of Prince Francesco Marco Luigi Costanzo Borghese (born 1938) and his American wife, Amanda Leigh. Borghese’s paternal grandmother was Princess Marcella Borghese, who founded the Borghese cosmetics line in 1958. His storied paternal ancestors include Napoleon’s sister, Paulina Bonaparte Borghese, Pope Paul V (ne Camillo Borghese) and Cardinal Scipione Borghese.