enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Flanders Panel

I read this book about 23-Sep-2002. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1990. This note was last modified Monday, 01-Mar-2004 11:08:59 PST.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Got a bunch of books for my birthday, so I think I'll be reading new things for a bit. In this case, a brand-new author (to me, I mean). None of my close social circle seem to have read him, either. Well, it'll be an interesting experiment.

For those following the game at home, this book was written by a Spanish journalist, and I'm reading it in translation. The book was apparently a best-seller in France and Spain.

This seemed a very strange and somewhat contradictory book to me. On the one hand, it was a very psychological, modern, sort of novel. On the other hand, in a lot of ways it felt just like Dorothy Sayers or older Rex Stout—as if it were set in the 1930s. No technology, everybody smokes, everybody drinks, very old-fashioned social conventions. (However, a computer makes a brief appearance off-stage in the final scene.) I notice the absence of pagers and answering machines and cell phones and computers and email. I imagine that may be a difference between the artistic community in modern Spain and my hyper-technological circle, but it still seemed very striking that this brand-new book felt just like the 70-year-old books I've been reading.

Overall, I didn't find it terribly successful. The characters seemed interesting, especially the three central ones (Julia, Césaro, Muñoz); but they never became compelling, and I never felt we got very deep into any of them (no, not even with Cé'saro's long explanation at the end).

The integration of the chess game didn't work that well for me, either. I've had some fun with other chess-game-linked novels (Brunner's The Squares of the City leaps to mind as an obvious example), and some of the parallels set up in this one are interesting. But several times I think they botched the discussion of the actual game, or at least didn't do it well enough to make things clear.

I actually managed to overlook the possibility of AIDS as the motivation for the unexpected changes in behavior -- but then AIDS wasn't around 70 years ago, and that's where this book placed itself in my head. And his handling of it, when it came up, was very strange. Maybe even wrong; he talked about AIDS itself being "terminal", whereas my understanding is that it's the opportunistic infections that really do the damage. And he talked about a very definite estimate of survival time, as for cancer; whereas my understanding is that the real progression is normally a series of crises separated by stretches of decent health, which makes any estimate beyond the current crisis pretty hopeless. And I suspect that the treatment of homosexuality was supposed to be very enlightened, whereas to me it came across as adequate but a bit backwards.

The description of the "Van Huys" painting seems excellent to me, and the ongoing analysis of the murder it was intended to document, and how that and the political and personal situations played out in the painting are one of the very best things in the book.

So, I've got another of his books in the TRQ, and will not be fighting it off, because this book was certainly interesting, and had some very good parts. On the other hand, based on this one sample I don't think I've found a new favorite author here.

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David Dyer-Bennet