The Sixteen Pleasures Paperback – May 1 1995
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In 1966, 29-year-old Margot Harrington heads off to Florence, intent on doing her bit to protect its precious books from the great floods--and equally intent on adventure. Serendipity, in the shape of the man she'll fall in love with, leads her to an abbey run by the most knowing of abbesses and work on its library begins. One day a nun comes upon a shockingly pornographic volume, bound with a prayer book. It turns out to be Aretino's lost erotic sonnets, accompanied by some rather anatomical engravings. Since the pope had ordered all copies of the Sixteen Pleasures burned, it could be worth a fortune and keep the convent autonomous. The abbess asks Margot to take care of the book and check into its worth: "We have to be cunning as serpents and innocent as doves," she warns.
Soon our heroine finds her identity increasingly "tangled up" with the volume and with Dottor Postiglione, a man with an instinct for happiness--but also one for self-preservation. Margot enjoys the secrecy and the craft (the chapters in which she rebinds the folios are among the book's finest). Much of the book's pleasure stems from Robert Hellenga's easy knowledge, which extends to Italian complexities. Where else would you learn that, in cases of impotence, legal depositions are insufficient: "Modern couples often take the precaution of sending postcards to each other from the time of their engagement, leaving the message space blank so that it can be filled in later if the couple wishes to establish grounds for an annulment." Luckily, however, there are also shops that sell old postcards, "along with the appropriate writing instruments and inks."
Though The Sixteen Pleasures is initially in the tradition of American innocent goes abroad to encounter European experience, Hellenga's depth (and lightness) of characterization and description lift it high above its genre. And what better book than one about loving and loving books?
From Publishers Weekly
A young American book conservator's discovery, while in Florence, of a volume of 16 sensual drawings with equally erotic sonnets leads her to a romantic encounter.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Hellenga goes into a great detail about art and books and their restoration and somehow makes it all interesting. Perhaps he's tapped into the psyche of book lovers by addressing one of our fears: Imagine your most favorite, rare books that you've collected have been damaged and need to be restored or they'll be lost forever. In this case, the author is talking about the treasures of an entire country and not just one person.
But this is just the setting and background. Hellenga is also able to apply his same sensual descriptions to his characters and describes the thoughts and life of an American woman in Italy quite ably.
I've given several copies of "The Sixteen Pleasures" to my friends, particularly women. It's that good. Quite simply, it is sumptuous and sensual and a pleasure to read.
Far too many readers make a point of Hellenga being a man. Donna Tart wrote as a man in "The Secret History" and Jeffrey Eugenides wrote as a hermaphrodite in "Middlesex." In both cases the authors nailed their characters. Why so hard to believe that Hellenga, as a man, can't handle a female character? Besides, anyone with the illusion that Hellenga is all touchy feely only needs to read his book "The Fall of the Sparrow" in which he describes the life of a typical older professor who has frequent sex with one of his female students. If anything, he's versatile. If you love "Pleasures" you might not be as enthralled with "Sparrow" which, although a good read in my opinion, just has a different reading audience.
On the back cover it states that she embarks on the "sixteen pleasures" mentioned in the book... with her "forbidden lover"... I thought this was too dramatic--Sandro was not forbidden, and she did not make a big deal about going through each of the pleasures as the back cover synopsis would have you think...
Overall a good book, although a little long in some places.
THE SIXTEEN PLEASURES is set in Florence, definitely one of the most beautiful places on our planet. As the tale unfolds, the reader is instructed about the great flooding of the Arno in 1966, about cloistered religious orders, and about the preservation of rare books.
The "pleasures" of the title allude to a medieval ... manual that is the property of a religious order of nuns, a manual which has been damaged in the flood. The whole novel is reported in the first person by the narrator, a female book restorer from America. She is seduced by everything with which she comes in contact, including the life of a cloistered nun, the Tuscan region itself, and a male art restorer with whom she re-enacts some of the pleasures.
At all times, the language, under the control of author Robert Hellenga, is lyrical. THE SIXTEEN PLEASURES is as close to perfection as a novel gets.
First, she sleeps with an academic, who happens to be a cad, but at least amuses her for the moment. There is a scene depicted in the book where the two are making love when Margot realizes that her girlfriend is in the room with them. While Margot is trying to shoo her out behind her lovers back, her friend is directing Margot on how to move her body to give her lover more pleasure. It is quite funny.
Next, she ends up becoming embroiled in an affair with a much older, married, Italian gentleman. While carrying on this affair, Margot is helping an order of nuns restore their library collection which has been ruined in a terrible flood. During this restoration the abess brings to her attention a 16th century pornographic drawing collection, The Sixteen Pleasures, once order by the pope to be burned, now likely worth tons of money if authentic. The abess very much would like to have the book, if authentic, sold so that the abbey could remain financially independant and therefore free from the tyrannical rule of the local bishop.
The tale of Margot's authenticating and selling the book stand interwoven with Morgot's affair. Eventually Morgot finds that she has fallen in love, both with her lover and with the women in the abbey. You must read the book to find out what choices she makes.
The tale reads like a wonderful cabernet wine.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I really enjoyed this book. The descriptions of book restoration were very interesting, all the characters were intriguing, and he did a good job describing things from a woman's... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Ann Phelps
This was written by a MAN??
Wow, the fact that a man wrote this book will blow your slippers off. Read more
I enjoyed the mystery and poetry of this book. The combination of a nunnery, erotic engravings, and a 29 year old American woman in Florence... well what else can I say.Published on June 14 2003
When I look back on the 300+ books I've read in the past ten years, Robert Hellega's "The Sixteen Pleasures" is near the top of my list of irresistable, poetic, life... Read morePublished on Feb. 10 2003 by Alex Nichols, author of Shadow Rock
and learn how to restore Renaissance monographs at the same time. Very well written. Characters are fully drawn. Most satisfying.Published on Jan. 24 2003
Robert Hellenga's ability to capture both a woman's voice and the Italian landscape is true evidence of his talent. Read morePublished on Oct. 8 2002 by Shannon Wallace
It will be interesting to see what Nicole Kidman will bring to this role. The author captures the intimacy of the small town that is Florence. Read morePublished on June 4 2002
Unlike other novels I have read in the last year, I couldn't get the momentum to read past the portions that bogged down. For me, this area had to do with life in the convent. Read morePublished on March 3 2002 by William GW Barnes