Duckworth Publishers has acquired world English rights to the "passionate and elegantly poignant" debut novel The Ornatrix by Kate Howard.
Publishing director Nikki Griffiths bought the book from Norah Perkins of Curtis Brown.
The Ornatrix is set in 16th-century Italy, and centres on Flavia who was born with a birthmark covering her face, in the shape of a bird in flight. Ashamed of the mark, her mother makes Flavia hide her face behind a veil on the rare occasions she is allowed to be seen in public. But on the night before her younger sister's wedding, Flavia does something drastic, something that will draw her into a much wider and stranger world than she could have imagined: the convent of Santa Giuliana, just outside the city walls.
There she meets Ghostanza, a courtesan turned widow, whose white-lead painted face entrances Flavia, and "whose beauty and cruelty are unmatched". Flavia becomes her ornatrix, her hairdresser and personal maid. But "as white-lead paint rots the flesh below it, so the bustling city, and Santa Giuliana, is rotten below the shimmer of wealth and privilege. And Flavia is drawn into a world of desire and jealousy that has devastating consequences."
"Rich in description and character, Kate Howard’s stunning debut is painted majestically against a vivid historical landscape, tackling issues of belonging, female identity and the perception of beauty", the publisher said.
Griffiths said: "The Ornatrix is that rare find–a most beautifully written literary novel with lyrical elegance and commercial appeal. It has the quirky, dark nature of Patrick Süskind’s Perfume mixed with the period detail and intrigue of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. It is the ideal summer read and will be perfect for book clubs. We are excited about its potential and think Kate Howard has a bright future ahead of her."
The Ornatrix will be published on 14th July 2016.