Opera di Cera by Kelly Swain – Review

opera di cera kelly swain book review

By Joe Forshaw

What does a reader of poetry expect? Words strung together like a daisy chain offering pacifying prose, an amalgamation of alliteration, mesmerising metres, delightful dialogue and maybe a soothing sensuality. Something one is at ease with, something that flows over one like a warm breeze blowing well within their comfort zone. If so read you not this book.

However, if you enjoy a challenge, like art to be innovative, startling and sometimes shocking, can handle an excursion way out of your comfort zone, can handle reality at its grimmest, would like to learn about a collection of cadavers, dissect a live bitch to extract puppies or cook snails, then this is the book for you.

opera di cera kelly swain book reviewThis poetic publication is in the form of a macabre thriller à la Edgar Allan Poe. It is all at the same time fascinating, thought provoking, stimulating, gruesome, sickening and sensual. It reeks of reality and is held together by a rainbow of poetic formats. And it is generically a work of faction, a mixture of historical fact and the author’s fertile imagination.


In 1774 in Florence The Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History opened. It was the brain child of the Tuscan Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo the younger son of Austrian Empress Maria who wished to create a public museum free to all and including an anatomical section that was to be created from real human remains. The master piece of the collection is the ‘anatomical Venus’, a recumbent life-sized figure with real human hair, whose torso disassembles to reveal a foetus in the womb.

The author Kelly Swain visited ‘La Specola’, as the museum is known, in 2011. Her observations are recorded in Opera di Cera which is a three act poetic opera with a cast of five. The story covers the creation of the waxworks and dissects the process through the eyes of the model, the collector of body parts, the chief modeller, the director and the anatomical Venus herself.

It is a fascinating read, a real trip into the unexpected but above all it is a trip into the rawness of reality. Really, the only disappointing aspect is there are no pictures or illustrations, which would have enhanced the reader’s enjoyment considerably.

‘Opera di Cera’ by Kelly Swain is published by Valley Press, £8.99


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