cover image Stone Virgin

Stone Virgin

Barry Unsworth. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $17.45 (309pp) ISBN 978-0-395-35412-4

She is the Madonna of the Annunciation, carved in Venice 540 years ago and now encrusted by an acid rain that rots the stone. Simon, an English sculptor who has turned to art restoration, labors ardently to save the statue's beauty. The stone is strangely luminous; the Virgin's gestures are ambiguous and provocative. Infatuated with the statue, Simon hallucinates about its past, glimpsing scenes of betrayal, murder and lust. Variations are replayed on these ancient passions as centuries blend into one another: Simon loves Chiara, whose body has been celebrated in bronze sculpture by her husband, Litsov, while the predatory art dealer Lattimer lurks ominously. British novelist Unsworth (Mooncranker's Gift provides knowledgable discourses on art, breathtaking scenes of Venice and a ripe plot that manages to link Renaissance glory to 18th century profligacy and contemporary intrigue. (March 19)