Saturday, 22 May 2010

A book a week in 2010: Up in the Air - Walter Kirn

George Clooney.

That got your attention.

Well he liked this book. He played the main character, Ryan Bingham, in the movie adaptation released in 2009.

I haven't seen the film, but thought the book would be worth reading as the movie had excellent reviews. Sadly, it wasn't. If you like middle-aged male existential angst then this is the book for you. It is not, however, for me.

Bingham is on a mission. To achieve the tantalising-close one million airmiles. How has he got to this amazing milestone? By flying around America as a gun-for-hire consultant to 'advise' clients (i.e. those being fired) about the life choices they have ahead of them.

But Bingham has lost himself on the way. He's sold his apartment. Aside from the identical hotel rooms he stays in, he has no real place called home. It takes a chance encounter with a fellow traveller and a visit from his sister to make him pause and wonder what it's all about.

Perhaps I'm being unfair. It's not all bad. There is real insight into the meaning of modern life early on. Reality begins to blur as you get a sense of being permanently in transit. It's just that the second half of the book hurtles into too much introspection for my taste, and becomes irritating. Frankly, it was a struggle just to finish.

I really wanted to like it, but Walter lost me, then never really got me back. Sorry George...

Up in the Air by Walter Kim
Published by John Murray, January 2010

Oh go on, Clooney fans, this one's for you....

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A book a week in 2010: Saving Caravaggio by Neil Griffiths

First up, my thanks to @caroleagent for suggesting this book. So when a major literary agent recommends a book, I take note. It's gotta be worth a punt, hasn't it?

Saving Caravaggio is an Italian mob/art/crime thriller. But don't let that put you off. Daniel Wright trained as an art historian. Except he wasn't really good enough to carry on and become a world leading art expert. More's the pity. Because now he is an art detective. One of the best. But still only a policeman.

He investigates international art frauds and travels across continents, using his academic background to add credibility to any cover story as he tries to secure stolen artworks.

But there is a complication. He has heard that his favourite artist Caravaggio's long-rumoured-to-be-lost masterpiece 'Nativity' isn't lost after all. A mafioso contact he developed in southern Italy, claimed the painting exists and may be available to the highest bidder. The quest for the Nativity becomes Wright's obsession, but in the process he risks losing contact with all that he holds dear. Saving Caravaggio takes us through the Italian countryside - from the urbane and cultured Florence to the closed society of Calabria - on an increasingly desperate quest to find the Nativity.

I loved the pace of this book. Griffiths builds up a wonderful picture of the different sides to Italian life. From the glamorous and chic city lives of the Uffizi's own Caravaggio expert, the beautiful Francesca Natali, and her powerful art collector and patron Storaro, to the cast of menacing and sometimes hapless characters in Calabria.

Now I'm not suggesting this is all there is to Italian society, but there is a suitably claustrophic atmosphere, where you actually BELIEVE that this is it, such is the focus of his prose and characterisation. The tension winds up palpably as the story progresses and the main characters learn more about themselves and each other.

If you prefer your crime thrillers to avoid any naval gazing and restraint, then this probably isn't for you. If you like a bit of culture, psychological introspection and reflection, then you should consider Saving Caravaggio for your next bedtime or beach read.