Martin Booth is posthumously back in the spotlight again, thanks to George Clooney and a film adaptation of his novel, originally titled A Very Private Gentleman. Imagine his handsome graying head bent over a half-finished butterfly painting at a cafe table in southern Italy, then aiding in the murder of prominent public figures in Washington, D.C. Indeed, this yarn is actually the very interesting inner monologue of a man who makes guns for covert political assassination plots. It is not a thriller per se, which is perhaps why the film has not been particularly well received. But Booth launched his career first as a successful poet, and the novel is a wonderfully evocative character portrait in a way that simply cannot be captured by film.
It can, however, be captured by voice. Ralph Cosham, who has narrated other such deep portrayals in the likes of Heart of Darkness and Frankenstein, brings the same super classy and sleuth-worthy British accent that he brought to The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. He can spend several minutes discoursing on the proper way to pack a false-bottomed briefcase, then jump to his philosophy on the important differences between the two hookers he's been seeing together twice a week.
Suffice it to say that the plot is intensely understated, and that the real treat is in this man's ability to understand himself and his surroundings. He is a speculative and moral creature who does not shy away from examining his own fleeting pleasures and broad failures. During these 10 hours of Cosham's strangely absorbing monologue, there is still enough time to thread in a sparse and therefore reasonably plausible conflict of a spy on the run from another spy. The things that might make it a failure as a film are precisely those things that make The American worth a listen. Megan Volpert
The locals in the southern Italian town where he lives call him Signor Farfalla - Mr. Butterfly - for he is a discreet gentleman who paints rare butterflies. His life is inconspicuous: mornings are spent brushing at a canvas, afternoons idling in the cafés, and evenings talking with his friend, the town priest, over a glass of brandy.
Yet there are other sides to this gentleman’s life: Clara, the young student who moonlights in the town bordello, and another woman, who arrives with $100, 000 and a commission - but not for a painting of butterflies.
With this assignment returns the dark fear that has dogged Signor Farfalla’s mysterious life. Almost instantly, he senses a deadly circle closing in on him, one which he may or may not elude.
Part thriller, part character study, part drama of deceit and self-betrayal, The American shows Martin Booth at the very height of his powers.
(Previously published as A Very Private Gentleman.)
©2004 Martin Booth (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Booth constructs his most focused, tightly written novel to date, reminiscent of William Trevor’s classic Felicia’s Journey and the late Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Booth has created a rich, conflicted antihero whose clever rationalizations mask a soul weary with self-doubt…making us question our own moral values." (Boston Globe)
“Haunting, shocking, and tense…Crisp yet lyrical, simple yet intelligent.” (Booklist)
Are audio books better than print books? That's such a personal call, my opinion is really insignificant to the reader of these reviews. I am a big fan of both, but audio books give me the ability to enjoy a book in situations where reading is not possible, like on long road trips. Sitting on a beach it might be a toss up, so make your own decision.
The book is quite unique, and therefore quite difficult to compare to other books I've read. It is almost journal-like in its approach.
Ralph Cosham really captures the complexities of the main character,Signor Farfalla, which really brings the story alive and makes the personal nature of the narrative believable.
When the Signor Farfalla finally admits to himself he cares for Clara
The original title of this book, "A Very Private Gentleman", is really a much better title for this work than "The American" and once you've listened or read it you will understand this. While I greatly enjoyed the movie, especially the scenery, the plot of the book is much more enticing. It is probably good I saw the movie, "The American" first. Had I listened to the book first, the movie would have been disappointing.
I'd recommend you give Martin Booth's "A Very Private Gentleman", AKA "The American" a try, I think you'll enjoy it, I know I did.
Born and named Che Linton Palk in Andover Hospital, Hampshire, one cold January morning 1976.
Great story, great narration. Don't want to spoil it. A must listen if the shadow world is your thing!!!!!!!!!!!
I truly enjoyed this and not just the story. Mr Cosham's reading, with his melancholy and perfect understanding of the prose, lent a credibility I was not prepared for. Told almost exclusively in first person, with opinions on a great many subjects, this was a memorable listen. Do not expect the movie...
A better narration. The absolute monotone delivery, even by talented Ralph Cosham, are not what I need when driving, or at anytime really. Why, one asks, was the decision to make the story as flat as possible? Just because it is placed in Italy, and indeed many Italian novels seem to have this same affliction? Maybe that's it.
Unlikely, but who knows. Maybe he's a great near-Alan Furst type writer. I certainly don't know after listening to a couple of hours of this narration.
See first response concerning narration.
It is always disappointing to think there might be a story of value buried under a dullness that acts as moat. I was sad. I was dulled. I was disappointed.
I don't like to give negative reviews. I appreciate the efforts and talents of almost all writers and certainly skilled narrators, but this audiobook left me so dulled that eventually I couldn't care less about the story.
Although it was published in 1990, at times it feels older, hence the mediocre recommendation. But there were stretches when I was completely engrossed. The book is written in the first person and that immediacy pulls you in. On other occasions it feels like a friend going on about something less than interesting. And maybe that is what Martin Booth was going for? I enjoy the details of a book, and the author get a lot right. Senior Farfalla is most intriguing when he goes into explaining the particulars of being one of the worlds greatest gunsmiths. The other times ... well, you get the idea. Regardless of that I found myself wanting to listen on. I will likely sample this one again, and I suppose that is the sign of a good book.
It is quite possible that the mystery novel has grown beyond this book and that I would have had fewer expectations if I had read this one soon after it was originally published. I just felt that it was too understated. Maybe the book cover image threw me off. The protagonist was a likable fellow, though. Narration was good, too.
A good novel should have a balance of plot to color and background. This one is about 5% to 95%; most of the book is about descriptions of butterflies, views out of windows, clothing, etc. etc. etc. Interesting when he tells the story, but lots of dull in between
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