You may remember back in February that I was completely charmed by a character called Nanna in Pietro Aretino’s risqué ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’. I was then sent the whole trilogy of Nanna’s tales as an early birthday present by the publishers Hesperus Press. I was in a mini book slump the other day (I have been book juggling and it’s made me feel a little wobbly, more on that later in the week) and couldn’t decided what quick read to take on the tube and Nanna popped into my head and I knew I had to read ‘The Secret Lives of Wives’ next.
‘The Secret Life of Wives’ is the sequel to the rather wonderful Italian once banned (and now of course a classic) ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’ and though you could read them separately as they stand alone, once you hear Nanna’s voice and some of the tales she has to tell I can almost guarantee that you will want to read the whole collection. As Nanna and her friend and confident sit in the sundrenched vineyard Nanna regales her favourite partner of gossip with the tales of her marriage and what wives really get up to with their husbands away.
From a wife who took a shine to the local priest, a woman who forgets her husband and unleashes an internal demon after meeting the hermit on her new home land, two women happily married until they meet a local teacher and a prisoner (two separate tales) and Nanna herself who tells us more of her own tale you sometimes forget that this book is around 500 years old. It isn’t all just delightful romp as Aretino looks at two things that make the backdrop of the book whilst all the rogue behaviour goes on in the forefront. Antonia and Nanna do mention the state of the country and indeed Rome in several parts of the book and really Aretino is looking at the sanctity of marriage and what goes on behind closed doors of perfect looking marital homes with tongue firmly in cheek.
In its day it was deemed as erotica of the lowest order and banned. Yet now in our modern times this book reads like pure escapist entertainment, which lets face it we all need from time to time. Though its erotica/escapism (depending on your out look) its marvellously written in the form of two women speaking and having a natter. In fact you could imagine this being a rather wonderful and incredibly eye opening play or TV show as the two main characters are marvellous; Nanna for her gumption and honesty and Antonio for her pure relish of every detail. You feel you are sat with the two friends eavesdropping.
Nanna: Because anything’s better than a husband. For example, just think how nice it is to eat out.
Antonia: True enough: variety is the spice of life. Anyway, I can well believe you, since they also say anything’s better than a wife.
I honestly think that if you are ever looking for a book, or three, that you can read in a single sitting (they are each about 70 pages long) that will make you laugh out loud, possibly blush on occasion and get totally carried away with through the voice of a marvellous narrator then this is the book for you. It’s also a perfect book if you want to try something different. I am going to hold off from the third in the trilogy ‘The School of Whoredom’ for a while as I don’t like thought of not having anything new from Nanna after that, yes that’s how great I think she and this series are. 8/10
Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
The Secret Life of Nuns – Pietro Aretino (I always like to start at the very beginning)
Delta of Venus – Anais Nin (beautifully written classic erotica that now too reads like literature and caused interesting discussion on here when I posted about it)