A sensuous story of the personal and business tribulations of a German trying to introduce printing to fifteenth century Venice, and of his Venetian wife. They have to deal with the full range of human types, all of whom seem to be unconsciously influenced by the life and poems of Catullus - the poet at the centre of the printer's efforts. All of the senses are conjured up in the descriptions of life in Venice. The prejudices, fears, habits of those who are Venetian as well as of the outsiders comes over clearly.
He watched his wife greedily, observed the glow of the fire warming the parting of her hair, which he had loved to kiss, dwelled on the incline of her wrist which he'd rubbed gently with his own so many times, and on the soft lower lip where he used to rest his own .... Later, before it was dawn, he rose from his divan, left the house, walked his usual miles around the town.
At the customs point he stopped, gazing at the waves, which pushed up in soft blocks as if being modelled by unseen hands. In the old days, Lussieta had hated for him to go to the tower of the Dogana, because it was said that just below its extremity lay the deepest sea cavern in the lagoon. There lived a terrible creature that, on nights without moon, was visible coiling under the waves. It was known to raise its horse-like head out of the water to swallow seagulls. Its body spiralled rhythmically under the waves while it digested its prey.
This mostre delle acque nere had made him laugh but Lussieta had frowned and insisted: 'Promise me, you will not go there when the night is black.'