30 Authors in 30 Days: David Vann on John L’Heureux

30 Authors in 30 Days is a first of its kind event aimed at connecting readers, bloggers, and authors. Hosted by The Book Wheel, this month-long event takes place during September and features 30 authors discussing their favorite recent reads on 30 different blogs. There are also some great prizes provided by GoneReading.com and BookJigs(See giveaway here)

For the full schedule of participating authors and bloggers, visit The Book Wheel or join the Facebook group. You can also follow along on Twitter with the #30Authors hashtag!

I’m so pleased to be part of this event. I’m doubly pleased to host the author David Vann here on The Relentless Reader. Enjoy!

Author David Vann on The Medici Boy by John L’Heureux

John L’Heureux is certainly one of America’s greatest living writers. Now he’s published his first novel in 10 years, The Medici Boy, and it’s a masterpiece, the most ambitious, beautiful and complex novel I’ve read this year.  In all of L’Heureux’s work we encounter a ferocity of characterisation to match the stories of Flannery O’Connor but also a different generosity, a look at what makes an artist, a look at redemption through art, and this is what The Medici Boy brings to fruition.

Luca di Matteo, our narrator, is a failed friar who becomes assistant to the great artist Donatello in 15th-century Florence. He witnesses the creation of the sublime in the tricky art of bronze casting, a process that begins with the construction of a frame, followed by a wax sculpture that is covered in clay, dried and fired and then poured with bronze where the melted wax once was. The scenes of this delicate procedure are unforgettable, but even better is the portrait of Donatello, in all his calm and frightening intensity, hard discipline, thunderous rages and, most importantly, his tortured love for young Agnolo, the 16-year-old boy who serves as model and inspiration for Donatello’s bronze “David”. The groundbreaking sculpture was the first full-sized nude bronze for 1,000 years and a remarkable departure from an earlier marble “David” by Donatello. In L’Heureux’s reimagining, it is Agnolo’s impish, bragging and maddening tease that is captured in Donatello’s greatest work – an artist’s suffering over the love of his life.

The Medici Boy is a great historical novel which creates a visceral sense of time and place and risk. L’Heureux spent a year in Florence on a Guggenheim fellowship researching, and he manages to capture a unique moment in which politics, art, religion and sexuality collide.

The spiritual debate here about sin and fate feels fresh and edgy, and refuses to be resolved. Our narrator sets out as a friar but is drawn to sex with prostitutes and ends up marrying one of them. He feels ambivalent about his gay son and is eventually imprisoned in a monastery by his other son; he never fully understands or forgives one, and is never fully understood or forgiven by the other.

There is a tremendous cohesion in this novel – even the minor characters are important, and each part of the story reflects on every other. We are presented with a portrayal of real art mired in real life: Donatello interrupted by one of Agnolo’s tantrums; jealousy and betrayal derailing other works; commissions as political threats; the church willing to sacrifice those who are forging its doors and carving its faces in marble.

What makes the book feel so dangerous is that everyone is out of control, acting unconsciously. They think they know their reasons, but they don’t, and they discover the truth too late. This is great tragedy, and the hallmark of all of L’Heureux’s work. Reading The Medici Boy, you will become caught up in sex and murder, betrayal and political upheaval, love and desire and the ferocious creation of the beautiful in sculpture, but you’ll also catch a glimpse of the place that art and religion point to within us, our finer, quieter makings.

About the Author:
Published in 19 languages, David Vann’s internationally-bestselling books have won 15 prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain and, most recently, the $50,000 St. Francis College Literary Prize 2013, and appeared on 70 Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. He has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Outside, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph, The Financial Times, Elle UK, Esquire UK, Esquire Russia, National Geographic Adventure, Writer’s Digest, McSweeney’s, and other magazines and newspapers. A former Guggenheim fellow, National Endowment for the Arts fellow, Wallace Stegner fellow, and John L’Heureux fellow, he is currently a Professor at the University of Warwick in England and Honorary Professor at the University of Franche-Comté in France.

You can find David’s books on Goodreads and Amazon.

For more information on The Medici Boy, check out the book on Goodreads or Amazon.  John L’Heureux can also be found on Facebook.

7 thoughts on “30 Authors in 30 Days: David Vann on John L’Heureux

  1. Medici Boy sounds like a great historical fiction set in Italy for the Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge I am doing. Adding it to my TBR so I don't forget. Thanks for the recommendation David. Jen, I was looking for your google book map to link to it on our Travel the World in Books Readathon. Your map was what inspired me to make my own but then I couldn't find it. Can you send me the link please? Thanks!


  2. The medici boy sounds great, I''ll put it on my list!I haven't read David Vann, but a couple of his novels are available in Spanish, and I wanted to try one of them since forever!


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