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1. A Tale for the Time Being
21. The Corpse ReaderThe Corpse Reader
2. The Sun is God
3. The Keeper of Lost Causes
4. Lost and Found
5. Murder on the Eiffel Tower
6. How to be Both
7. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
8. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
9. Levels of Life
10. The Seventh Day
11. Fortunately the Milk
11b. The Sleeper and the Spindle
12. The Agile Project Management Handbook
13. Reykjavik Nights
14. The Siege
15. The Torch
16. Being Mortal
18. Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen
19. The Buried Giant
20. Another Time, Another Life
by Antonio Garrido
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It is perhaps unusual to find a detective novel by a contemporary Spanish author set in 12th century China, during the Song Dynasty. Song Ci, the Corpse Reader of the title, was a historical figure, one of the founders of forensic science. Garrido came across Song Ci while researching forensics, and thus got the idea for this unusual character and setting.
While Ci is investigating crimes, it is perhaps better to read this novel as historical fiction. That’s certainly how the author describes it in a self-congratulatory afterword. In that light, Garrido has done an excellent job of portraying medieval China. His accounts of rural peasant life, strict family hierarchies and the complicated protocols of the bureaucracy and the Imperial Court feel authentic.
The problem is that the book is overly melodramatic in a Perils of Pauline
sense. Almost anything that could go wrong for Ci does, yet he is always saved by a lucky intervention, a timely stroke of ingenuity, or his invulnerability to pain, the legacy of a neural disorder that the historical Song Ci does not seem to have had. Exposition is also clumsy, with lots of chapters ending in trite “little did he know” fashion.
For reasons best known to himself, Garrido has given all of his characters Chinese names except two: Gray Fox and Blue Iris. The reason for this departure is never explained, and it somewhat mars the feeling of authenticity that the author is seeking.
The crimes that Ci is investigating are baffling and there are many twists and turns to the plot. Too many, in my opinion, adding to the sense of melodrama rather than suspense. I liked the way that he linked the denouement to real events of the time and the somewhat open ending. I’d like to read more novels about this character, except that Garrido has marred a great idea with cheap and unrealistic tricks instead of giving us the gravitas that the Song Ci character merits.22. Portrait of a ManPortrait of a Man
by Georges Perec
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
It would be churlish not to acknowledge that Portrait of a Man
is a major literary event; the publication of a long-lost novella by a major 20th century novelist. Unfortunately, being a major literary event is not the same as being a major work of literature.
I’m not familiar enough with Perec’s ouvre
to be excited by the parallels between this book and his better-known works, and there are many references and connections that will please the cognoscenti but elude someone such as myself. I can only review this book based in its inherent interest and, to me, it simply does not measure up.
The story is about Gaspard Winckler, a forger who commits a murder. The book starts with Winckler describing the immediate aftermath of the murder and his desperate attempts to escape the scene. The second part of the book essentially retells the story in the form of a dialogue between Winckler and another character, where Winckler enlarges on his forging career and why he committed the murder.
Characterisation is almost entirely absent; the victim and all of the supporting characters are pretty much cyphers. Perec’s story suggests that Winckler’s persona is just as much a forgery as his art works so, in the end, there is nobody in the novel with a complete backstory that we can identify with. There is no nemesis pursuing Winckler over his crime, and no real development of the plot beyond the murder and what led up to it.
This was Perec’s first work of fiction, and the book was rejected by the publishers; maybe they were right.View all my reviews