The Ornatrix, by Kate Howard.

I will put it simply: I love books.

I have many passions, lots of interests that come and go and I am always up for new things to learn. There’s only one thing that it’s always been there, that never changed through time: books. I remember when I was a kid and my dad got me some magazines for kids and I used to read them all in one go.
I do not know if I got this passion from someone or if it’s always been in me but I do suspect the second option is the right one.

Once I moved to London, I had to leave my beloved books in Italy and, moving four houses in four years, I decided that I would stop buying books or at least limit it. This is why I asked my brother to get me a Kindle and I do read on that sometimes, specially the thicker books. Suddenly though, I felt like I had to buy MORE books. How lucky was it then that my colleague’s husband works for a publishing company? Chatting about books, he suggested me to read The Ornatrix by Kate Howard.

The Ornatrix is a story set in 16th century Italy, where Flavia is born with a mark on her face the shape of a bird. Pretty tough back then, people believes lead to witches to be burnt and some other cruel stuff. Flavia’s parents are guilty of not accepting her look and making her feel an outsider. Jealousy is what leads her when her sister is getting married so as punishment for her actions, Flavia’s parents send her to the convent of Santa Giuliana. She isn’t really accepted there either, even if the nuns get used to her face. Her life changes when she meet Ghostanza. Flavia soon becomes her Ornatrix, her personal maid. Ghostanza introduces Flavia to the art of what is considered the make up of that time, which is mainly very toxic for the skin but covering up the face and giving it a white and angelic look is what every matron in the city does.

Flavia’s main desire is to get accepted by a society that bans the imperfections, so the book follows her in the challenge of looking like everyone else. Eventually, I do believe she accepts herself. I won’t spoil the rest of the story because it’s definitely worth a read.

What I found reading this book is that the topics are very modern even if the story is set in the past. Beauty, society standards and acceptance is something we all know and we all talk about.

Just before I started reading this book, a famous Italian blogger posted a pic on social media about her in a swimsuit at the beach. The message was pretty clear: do not be ashamed about your body, go to the beach anyway. I found it brave and true, we cannot be influenced by how the media and the society would like us to be and I think at some point in the book Flavia realises it as well: doesn’t matter how many layers of make up she wears, she will continue to be the same person, with the same flaws. The birthmark won’t disappear, it will always be there so she might as well learn how to live with it.

While I was reading, I almost wished I could have gone into the book and let Flavia know that it’s ok, that eventually society will accept the ones that look different and that she’ll be fine. Unfortunately, I realised that is not entirely true and that still in 2016 we do have issues accepting something that doesn’t really fit in any of the categories we have been taught and that we know.

Hang in there Flavia, maybe one day people will accept everything that makes us unique.

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Thanks to Matt at Duckworth Publisher for the book.
The book is on offer till TODAY on Kobo at £3.99, otherwise you can find it on Watersones‘ website or on Amazon. Also available Kindle edition.

 

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