Venice: Pure City, By Peter Ackroyd

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The Independent Culture

Having drained London dry, Ackroyd has found a juicy new topic on the Adriatic. In this ironically titled study, La Serenissima gains an Ackroydian gloss, familiar to the many fans of his London: A Biography. Ackroyd's Venice is "the home of the dispossessed and the deracinated".

He stresses the metaphoric significance of water, so ubiquitous that the city is "a hydropic body" yet so rare in potable form that Venetians filled barrels at mainland rivers.

He suggests that this fluid situation, which gave employment to 10,000 gondoliers in the 16th century, creates "psychopathic tendencies. It has always been a city in a state of high anxiety."

His dark tapestry, replete with "venereal practices", "death and pestilence", deserves a place in every visitor's luggage with James Morris's Venice.