Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Thievery #7: "A Very Private Gentleman" by Martin Booth

I heard of Martin Booth's subtle thriller, "A Very Private Gentleman," when I watched "The American" - the film adaptation of the novel. Obviously, the character in the novel is English, and less of a wuss than George Clooney; but, nonetheless, it would be impossible to deny that the statement "I loved The American" is entirely truthful. And now, having read Booth's original, I am happy to say it was a very faithful movie.

It's just worth noting that the book is even better.

There are a few elements in particular, jiving with my taste for "genre," that contributed to the palatable excellence of this story. Namely:

1. Gunsmithing: The protagonist of "A Very Private Gentleman" builds guns for assassins. Thus, the book gives an awesome look into the precise, metallurgic world of the craft: building silencers, manufacturing explosive ammunition, filing stocks, and all that jazz. Whereas most thrillers thrive off the use of the firearm, this novel is built up with an incredible tension where the un-fired status of the gun is a constant threat: as the gun takes form, so does the action and suspense. It's not only awesome to read about building guns: it's also an awesome metaphor.

2. Beverages: Some books take a somewhat perverse interest in food. This book is like that, only with beverages. In fact, this book is also obsessed with food; but I found the meditation on beverages far more fascinating. Since the story takes place in Italy, we're specifically talking about wines (frizzantes and biancos and all that) and coffees (the latte kind as well as the more classic espresso). There's also some juice involved. Regardless, the amount of beverages the protagonist drinks is just staggering - until you realize that you, too, drink a lot of beverages. I mean... beverages. They're everywhere. It reminds you that this very private gentleman is really quite a homely dude (gun-building aside). The beverages, as it were, hit you right in the heart.

3. Golden-hearted hookers: This probably shouldn't get me every time. But it gets me every time. 'Nuff said.

Really, though, what commanded my attention through this whole tale was the simple depths that Booth plunged to make his story fully flesh. It reminded me of a Hemingway story, in terms of its visceralness and tactility. There are peaches; there is sun; there are bullets, butterflies, and mountains. Everything that you experience in your daily life is also here, in all its beautiful starkness and familiarity. Booth's ability to describe never runs dry; it is "cold and hard." It is beautiful.

The magical simplicity of Booth's prose keeps the story going. If this book was only a thriller, it would have no magic to it; it would still be a good yarn, yes, but it wouldn't be beautiful. Instead, thanks to the author's sense of poesy, you find yourself walking along the streets of a little Italian town, arm in arm with the gunsmith, sitting to enjoy a pizza before moving on to read the paper or post a letter. It is a life in fullness inhabiting the words.

There is also some sex and people dying. So, yeah: it pretty much rules.

-bn

1 comment:

  1. All of the above sounds good to me. I've got the movie on my Netflix queue, but maybe I'll read the book first.

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