The Sixteen Pleasures: A Novel (Paperback)
Margot Harrington, an American volunteer in Florence, is an expert at book conservancy. While struggling to save a waterlogged convent library, she comes across a fabulous volume of sixteen erotic drawings by Giulio Romano, accompanying sixteen steamy sonnets by Pietro Aretino. When first published over four centuries ago, the Vatican ordered all copies destroyed. This one—now unique—volume has survived.
The abbess prevails upon Margot to save the order’s finances by selling the magnificently illustrated erotica discreetly—meaning without the bishop’s knowledge.
Margot’s other clandestine project is a middle-aged Italian who is boldly attempting radical measures to save endangered frescoes. She is 29 and available; he, older and married. He shares her sense of mission and soon her bed in this daring story of spiritual longing and earthly desire.
About the Author
Robert Hellenga was educated at the University of Michigan and Princeton University. His novels include The Fall of a Sparrow, Blues Lessons, The Italian Lover, and The Confessions of Frances Godwin. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, two Illinois Arts Council grants, and a PEN Fiction Award.
Praise for The Sixteen Pleasures
“Part mystery, part romance, part guidebook. A lively first novel that communicates the heady peril, as well as the adventure, of Florence after the flood.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Elegantly moving. Everything about the narrator and heroine of this novel is appealing right from the first paragraph.”
—The New Yorker
“An erotic book about an erotic book. At the same time, we receive a crash course in Italian cuisine, convent life, the European railway system and the delicate labor involved in restoring flood-damaged works of art.”
—Maxine Kumin, author of Where I Live
“A terrific, swift novel about being in love with Italy, Italian art and Italians. If there’s such a thing as an art thriller, this is it.”
—John Casey, author of Spartina
“This novel offers the reader a luxurious feast of pleasures—many many more than sixteen.”
—Tillie Olsen, author of Tell Me a Riddle
“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?”
“Fascinating entertainment . . . with a sympathetic heroine, a suspenseful plot, a cast of colorful characters and illuminating meditations on life, art and love.”
“A rewarding read, with a witty heroine, a marvelous setting, and lots of fascinating detail about book conservation and the restoration of art.”
“A wonderfully rich and absorbing story . . . Hellenga forms Florentine art, nuns, erotica, and American know-how into a kind of della Robbia arrangement of juicy forbidden fruit.”