Stabat Mater, By Tiziano Scarpa (trs Shaun Whiteside)

Staring death in the Venice

Tiziano Scarpa won Italy's 2009 Strega prize with this highly unusual tale of a young orphaned novice, Cecilia, who, along with some of 17th-century Venice's other orphaned and abandoned girls, earns her keep in the convent by playing violin in the nuns' orchestra.

Scarpa captures the sense of a girl being driven slowly mad by her confinement and lack of knowledge about her birth, as Cecilia both romanticises and denigrates her possible origins. Birth is a dirty matter as well as a beautiful one, and they exist side by side until the arrival of a new music master. Based on the story of Vivaldi and his teaching of convent orphans, this is a muscular fairytale that stares death in the face.