What We Thought: The 18th century Venice of Scherzo by Jim Williams is hallucinatory and filled with intrigue. La Serenissima hides in the mists and miasmas that hover over her canals and seep into her alleyways; her citizens creep through her streets cloaked and masked. Dark deeds are performed by hidden hands and mystery abounds.
Scherzo is ostensibly the story of a murder and its investigation but it is also the evocation of a particular time and a particular place brought to life in fascinating detail.
The protagonist is Ludovico, a castrato, mutilated as a boy to enable him to pursue a musical career. Ludovico is a colourful character who mixes with both high and low Venetians. He makes the acquaintance of the mysterious Monsieur Arouet, who may or may not be Voltaire and the pair attempt to solve the murder of a high-born citizen found hanging from a bridge, gutted.
Written in Williams’ gloriously flamboyant style, this is a romp through the lives of a variety of characters (including Casanova) taking in art, philosophy and secret societies along the way.
Though a possible culprit is found, there may not be a definitive solution to the murder mystery. Indeed there may not have been a murder at all.
The language is rich, the intrigue is tangled and the characters may not be who they claim to be. This is a wild tale about lies and illusion, with a narrator so unreliable even he doesn’t know when he’s telling the truth.
It’s worth bearing in mind that ‘scherzo’ means ‘joke’ (and ‘Ludo’ means ‘I play’) and there is much joking and playfulness in this wonderful book.
You’ll enjoy this if you like: Historical fiction with a twist, playful writing, extravagant language.
Avoid if you dislike: Language rich with allusion, illusion and elusion.
Ideal accompaniments: Drinking full bodied Italian wine while wearing a carnivale mask and a cloak.
Genre: Literary fiction, Historical fiction.