In the Name of the Family ~ by Sarah Dunant

I’ve read a couple books by Dunant over the last few years ago and have not been impressed.   The prior books were “Sacred Hearts” and “Blood and Beauty”,   Dunant’s 1st book in this series about the Borgias.   Nevertheless, several members of one of my reading groups adore her work and  I succumbed.

In the Name of the Family
by Sarah Dunant
2016 / 480 pages
read by Nicholas Boulton 14h 11m
Rating:  7.5 /  historical fiction 
(sequel to Blood and Beauty) 

I generally enjoy historical fiction,  but there are some highly regarded novels which can grate on me and I’m at a loss to know why.  I have a suspicion they have too much historical information which is too closely intertwined with the fictional elements.

In my opinion,  it would be a good idea to have some background in the story of the Borgia family prior to reading the book.   Blood and Beauty is a good start but unless you read the books back-to-back it’s probably not enough and even then,  In the Name of the Family goes on through the births and deaths of many of the major characters.

Following the daily doings of the Borgia family is one thing,  but making up possible events and dialogue and feelings to accompany the history is different for me because I start wondering about sources – letters and diaries and court documents?   And in the case of the Borgias much of it turns into speculation because what sources there are happen to be seriously biased.    I’m perfectly aware that several of the popes of this era produced children.  (That might have been a shocker back when I was in the 8th grade).

Using Machiavelli as a character from whom we get a decided perspective Dunant points at those events from which The Prince came.   Those are kind of “aha” moments if you’re familiar with The Prince.   (I am but I read it long ago.)

I’m also not particularly fond of over-written and cliche-ridden prose which it sometimes felt like, although it shone in other places.   I suppose that kind of style fits the time and place,  I’m just not fond of that kind of rich and powerful arrogance.  (You cannot write about Pope Alexander IV with simple prose like you would Pope Francis or someone.)

On the plus side –  yes there is a plus side with several aspects  –  the characters of Lucrezia and Machiavelli are wonderfully well drawn and the Duke of Ferrera is viscerally ugly.   Seeing Lucrezia and Machiavelli presented in a sympathetic light is interesting – if not new in Lucrezia’s case.    This is no Wolf Hall with the interior monologue of a revisionist Thomas Crowell,  although there seem to be light leanings in that direction with Machiavelli’s mental consideration of all that transpires around him.

The setting is abundant with the details of household life for the family, especially that of the women involved.  It feels a bit like Dunant is showing off her research although it never gets obtrusive.  Still,  when Leo da Vinci and Michelangelo’s David show up along with Machiavelli it seems to get a bit much,  even if they certainly were all in Rome at the time.
I was a bit confused when it came to the battles and political solutions – I suppose it came out in the end.  The health concerns are an intriguing peek into the concerns of the times and women’s issues.

Interesting re the historical Lucrezia Borgia and her wealth:

These characters are still mysterious and intriguing to us today in the 21st century and at this point it’s probably impossible to tease out the truth from the plethora of evidence even if period legal documents are available.  So if you like fictionalized history which is what this is –  enjoy!

Nicholas Boulton does an incredible job of narrating.


This entry was posted in 2023 Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to In the Name of the Family ~ by Sarah Dunant

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Hi Becky:) You know, I really liked Sarah Dunant when I first discovered her, but my recent reading of her novels has been disappointing. I am not sure whether it’s because she has fallen prey to the risks associated with being a prolific writer and her recent efforts are not as good, or whether it’s just that I have developed as a reader and my standards and expectations have shifted. These days, I would add her novels to a list of undemanding books to read on a long haul flight with no expectation of remembering anything about it afterwards!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You bet I think my standards have developed – or they’ve at least changed – and keep changing. And maybe, too, Dunant has become a bit formulaic with the her entries into the historical fiction scene. Don’t know but I doubt I’ll read another one – otoh, I’ve said that before and the truth is if another Dunant were to come on the market and a group selected it I’d likely read it because I read a lot and don’t always know how to select my own books! lol –


  2. Helen says:

    I think the Borgias are fascinating but when I started Blood and Beauty a few years ago I couldn’t get into it and took it back to the library unread. I’m planning to try it again at some point because I would like to read In the Name of the Family and feel as though I should read the two books in the right order. The only other Sarah Dunant book I have read is The Birth of Venus, which I thought was good but nothing special.


    • Yes, the books should probably be read together to get the flow of the basic history. But the politics is not overwhelming – there is quite a lot about the business of the house too, Lucrezia’s childbearing and people’s illnesses, stuff like that.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s