July 16, 2012

Eye of the Needle

I found this book on the street a couple of days before a flight to Baltimore and I took that as a message from the universe that I should take it along and read it on the plane rather than spending fifteen bucks on a Ruth Rendell or something at an airport bookshop. And I gotta say, the universe had a point in this particular instance. I can't think of a better way to distract yourself from the the fat people spilling out of their seats on either side of you, the screaming baby behind you, and the chattering teens in front of you than a good page-turning thriller about sex and Nazis. Six hours just flew by, so to speak.

I was a kid when this was a big blockbuster as a book, and later as a movie starring Donald Sutherland. I do remember the movie, vaguely. I recall the scene where the wife (whose name I have already forgotten -- about which, more later) has to have sex with Donald Sutherland even after learning he's a Nazi spy as being a lot more shocking and emotionally intense on-screen than it was in the book I just read, but that is perhaps because I was young and innocent and still harbored romantic ideas about marriage and such. It was the only scene I really remembered from the movie, which possibly tells you something about me, or it, or both. I would say, though, that Donald Sutherland was probably miscast as the book's self-effacing, ruthlessly-efficient, spy-next-door super-villain. I'll have to see it again to make sure of that, though.

But yeah, as I said, four weeks later I can't remember any of the characters' names or all that much about their characters. Sweet wife, bitter, crippled husband, rumpled academic spy-catcher, cold, calculating Nazi with close-cropped hair and a detached manner, who happens to like chess. I could have told you that just from looking at the cover before reading it, it's true. (And I don't even know if the chess thing was part of it, but I'm sure there was something like that, chess or birdwatching or orchid cultivation. You know the kind of thing I'm talking about.) That's weak "characterization" by definition; and I suppose the prose style wouldn't win any awards for hit-you-over-the-head grace and literariness either. But doing that stuff is nowhere near as difficult or elusive or as impressive as making six hours fly by, and it did that just great. Lots of stars from me, in other words.

It's kind of a weird thing to do to "review" an old best-seller found in the street like that, but I've done weirder. Now that I've done it, I think I'm going to post this as my sole review on goodreads, just because I have this empty account and I think that's kind of funny whether it really is or not. But, in the spirit of internet reviews, let me add:

this book was ridiculous I couldn't get into it and as for England and Germany being in a big huge war that England (!) won, I just wasn't buying it. Also it was terrible how the man treated his wife and wouldn't even kiss her or something, even though they had a baby -- not my idea of a good time. And the guy who kept killing people with his stilettos? Ahem, Mr. Auther man, but I'm pretty sure men didn't start wearing stilettos in Germany till at least the '80s, and certainly not in World War One like he is in the book. It's called research. To sum up, I couldn't relate to any of these people at all, they just seemed old and weird. Sell-back bin.

Posted by Dr. Frank at July 16, 2012 09:09 PM