Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quotable: Also a Book Review of The Art Thief

"An old professor of mine once said, 'If you had a Mondrian in the kitchen, you would burn the soup.'"
-Gabriel Coffin in Noah Charney's The Art Thief

First of all, no, I don't have any idea what the quote is really supposed to mean. The character saying it even admits that he doesn't know what it means. I guess he just thinks it sounds cool. Which it sort of does. But I also think it's supposed to be derogatory - and I love Mondrian. So I can't get behind that.

Anyway, this quote is mostly an excuse for me to write a post about this book. I've been reading it for a month now and have just finally read enough of the pages that I can consider myself finished. I am relieved.

I really wanted to like this book. On the surface, it appears written for people just like me. Charney is an art historian and he obviously knows his subject. The book's set in Rome and London and Paris and involves Old Masters and Russian Suprematists and professors, art historians, experts, curators, investigators...it's romantic and intriguing.

And boring. The plot itself is interesting. At least, it would've been interesting if somebody had summarized it for me in 3 minutes. Or it could have been interesting in the hands of a different author - or really just a more assertive editor.

Unfortunately, despite the vivid locations and exciting lives of the characters, Charney relies a lot more on telling readers about the plot than showing anything. Really, I think this is largely an editing problem. He also allows his characters to pontificate on art history theory. Some of it was kind of interesting, but this isn't a textbook for my Methods class. It's a commercial novel. Somehow I doubt lectures on iconography and on Minimalism as an anti-icon statement have that much widespread appeal.

There is a lot of food, though. These conversations have to happen someplace, so several of them take place in restaurants and we get to glimpse what fictional Parisian detectives like to eat. So that's kind of cool. Unfortunately, because the dialogue is so stilted, during these scenes, I couldn't help but imagine that the characters were merely acting out conversations the author actually had with his friends. I picture Charney sitting in a brasserie or whatever, looking professorial (maybe some tweed, definitely elbow patches), glass of wine nearly spilling in one hand, while the other gestures wildly as he gives his grad school friends a crazy-eyed lecture on the readily apparent meaning of Malevich.

I know his type.

That said, I hope he does write another book. Just maybe with a different editor.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails