I’ve just finished James Runcie’s The Colour of Heaven which I picked up in a charity shop. I’m not sure about you but I have various devices to call upon when choosing a book. First there is the author. There are certain authors whose books I will always look out for because I enjoy everything they write. In this category I’d put Tracy Chevalier, Salley Vickers, Philipa Gregory, Susan Hill etc. (Interesting that they’re all women.) This author is the son of Robert Runcie, ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, who I’ve heard on radio being interviewed. His new book is about a clerical sleuth so when it is out in paperback it will no doubt find its way on to my shelves.
My next reason for choosing a book is the cover. You can tell a lot about a book by its cover, although one should never judge. This cover was in shades of beautiful blue with gold stars and the outline of a canal in Venice with a sweet boy painted in Renaissance style. That tells me that it is probably historical and perhaps with a bit of church in it. Both good reasons for choosing a book.
The third selection criteria is the title. The Colour of Heaven again made me think that there might be some religious content. A quick glance at the back cover tells me it is set in Venice in 1295 amidst the Ascension Day festivities so that’s enough to tempt me.
Finally there are the book reviews and quotes. This one is recommended by Salley Vickers, Michael Arditti and someone else whose name I didn’t know. I’m never sure if these other authors do actually read the books but one has to assume they have at least skimmed through it, and as I admire them then I reckon that I’ll probably like the same books.
James Runcie writes well and his descriptions are wonderful. The tastes, smells and sounds of Venice to Persia, Afghanistan and China are superb and extremely evocative. There is also a lovely undercurrent of humour which I remember his father possessed when he spoke at one of our Provincial Conferences many moons ago.
Paulo is abandoned as a baby and brought up by a glassblower and his wife. As he grows they realise that he has difficulty seeing at a distance but this means that he has an unusually keen eye for colour and tone. He ends up working for Simone Martini, a painter from Siena, who sends him on a quest to find the perfect blue for his painting of heaven. The rest of the story is his quest for the rare Lapis Lazuli stone found in Afghanistan. As he journeys, Paulo meets people along the way who help him grow and he finds love, faith and beauty – as well as a pair of spectacles. (Actually there wasn’t much religion after all, but some lovely bits on faith.)
A lovely story, historically accurate, and wonderfully written. 4 stars.