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)
This Booth/Cosham combo produces a book in easy conversational style, about what its like to be an assassin or assassin’s assistant.
The scene is set in a quiet Italian village. You feel as if Mr. Butterfly, this pleasant and likeable gentleman, is sitting in front of you, in an easy chair, with a glass of wine, describing his life as assassin. His way is casual, gentle and quiet. Introspective. You cant quite imagine him doing what he does, but the way he tells it makes it seem quite natural and acceptable. Almost.
The irony is, that because he is an agent for killing people, he doesn’t have a life himself.
A good, well-written and interesting book.
You never have to wait for anything if you bring a good book.
In a reversal of the norm, I enjoyed the movie so I thought I would give the book a shot. I'm delighted that I did, but you must know that the plot line of this book is not at all like the plot in the movie. In fact I find it hard to see where they got the movie plot from this book since they share only some names and minor sub-plots.
Martin Booth is an elegant writer who paints a chillingly intimate portrait of the alien world inside the head of an aging master craftsman of assassin's weapons. We see an older man searching for peace and love after an especially violent and solitary life. Booth's finely wrought depiction of small town life in Italy makes me feel as though I've lived there too.
The narration is solid, without resorting to hokey artifice. Overall, a great read (listen).
Shorten it 50 percent
This book, which I thought was a thriller, is a long florid impressionistic description of Italy, Italian geography, culture, cuisine, and art, along with butterflies and gunsmithing. The identity and activities of the protagonist are kept secret for the first third of the book. Very slow to come to its climax. Frustrating listen.
no way I'd read it
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.
I saw this movie first, then read the book. The book has enough plot differences - to go along with the excellent attention to detail - to make this a nice complement if you've seen the movie. While it is missing a bit of heart at times, the journey of the protagonist is captivating (as are the descriptions of Italy). Lacking the real innovation to be worthy of 5 stars, this solid and enjoyable novel met my expectations.
I tried, I really tried, but after several attempts at listening to this audio book I found myself unable to engage with the story and lulled into a sleep state.
I read this book because the moving was about to hit the theaters. They changed the name of the book because the move gave it a different title. A Private Gentleman to The American. Need I say more! I actually thought the movie had a better ending.
There are no listener reviews for this title yet.
Report Inappropriate Content