This is Jeanette Winterson at her best. I've read most of her novels and this is one of my favourites. The story follows Henri, a French peasant who hero worships Napoleon. He is torn between his pride in serving Napoleon his meals as the army travels Europe and his feelings of not belonging in the army.
The second strand of the novel follows Villanelle, a young Venetian, born with webbed feet (as myth suggests all Venetian fishermen are). She dresses as a boy to work in the Casino, where she meets a mysterious married woman, who becomes her lover for a while while her husband is away.
Eventually the two narratives merge - everything is connected.
The novel is beautifully written. The language is gorgeous, but also concise, there's barely a word out of place. There are wonderful touches of surrealism, as in the shapeshifting Venice of everchanging waterways and the fishermen's webbed feet. It feels like an exagerrated picture of Venice as it really is, and the reader can almost accept it as being real, just as we can almost accept as real the alternative version of history we're presented with.
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, published by Penguin
For the LGBT Reading Challenge and the Italy in Books Reading Challenge