Juan Manuel de Prada’s second novel, and first to be translated into English, is nearly as mysterious and strange as the painting for which it is named, Giorgione’s The Tempest, c. 1510. The painting has long been the source of both interest and frustration for art historians and remains largely inexplicable. For Alejandro Ballesteros, the Spanish art historian protagonist of the novel, the painting is the focus of his entire professional life. When Ballesteros comes to Venice to study the painting, however, he witnesses the murder of Fabio Valenzin, an art dealer and forger. This moment embroils young Ballesteros in a series of events beyond his control. His contact in Venice, Gilberto Gabetti, the curator of the Galleria dell’Accademia, is well-acquainted with Valenzin, as is his adopted daughter Chiara. Ballesteros soon becomes as obsessed with Chiara as he is with The Tempest. The murder draws Ballesteros into a claustrophobic circle including police inspector Nicolussi; his lover Dina; and Gabetti’s ex-wife, Giovanna. At least as compelling as any of the characters, however, is the city of Venice: dark, murky, labyrinthine, flooded, and shrouded in snow.
The Tempest is a complicated and complex exploration of atmosphere and art, of truth and deception, and of love and obsession. Unlike most novels of murder and intrigue, this novel is less about plot and more about philosophy; less about suspense, and more about the seduction of its protagonist by the watery arms of Venice.