Book Review : Tales from the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

Tales from the DecameronTales from the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The complete Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, set in 1348, consists of 100 stories told by 10 people to each other over an imaginary 10 day period whilst they seek refuge from the plague ravaging Florence. This book takes 32 of those stories for re-telling.

Reading a 14th century classic, originally written in Italian, means that the translator is always going to be key.

I found Peter Hainsworth’s translation on the whole very readable. Being so old you can expect the writing styles of 650 years ago to be very different to today’s narratives. Indeed you get a sense of this with the subject matter that is discussed and the sentence and paragraph structures that Peter Hainsworth crafts in his translation. To me, the way he did this, lent an air of authenticity and I felt it got me closer to what I imagine the original style to be. Peter Hainsworth rightly refrains from too much ‘modern speak’ or ‘modern slang’ which again made it feel more real to me and closer to Boccaccio’s original prose – whether this is true or not I cannot tell as I’m no scholar of 14th century Italian.

Looking at the selected stories told in this collection is intriguing. They are windows into how 14th century people viewed the world. Their lives, loves, lusts and views on the Church were a real joy to read. At times some of the story lines echoed Chaucer’s Canterbury tales (there is some debate as to whether these 2 books actually influence each other at the time). Some of the storylines wouldn’t have been out of place in a Shakespeare play (which would have been written 200+ years later) so its interesting to see the direct line of development and continuity between Boccaccio to Shakespeare and on to us in the 21st century – so to paraphrase Mr Spock- in a word this book was fascinating!

The official book description describes this as “Bawdy, moving, hilarious and reflective” I would agree it’s a rollicking good read.

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Book Synopsis

‘Official’ Book Description

Bawdy and moving, hilarious and reflective – these stories offer the very best of Boccaccio’s Decameron in a brilliant, playful new translation.

This hugely enjoyable volume collects the best stories of Boccaccio’s masterwork in a fresh, accessible new translation by Peter Hainsworth. It includes such celebrated, thought-provoking tales as ‘Isabella and the Pot of Basil’ (famously adapted by Keats) and ‘Patient Griselda’ alongside many boisterous and daring stories featuring faithless wives, philandering priests and curious nuns.