Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Perfect Landscape: Review

The Perfect Landscape brings Hanna, an art theorist who has been working in the galleries and museums of Amsterdam, back home to Iceland.  She has hopes of a cushy job at a small Reykjavik museum with a solid reputation. The museum has just acquired a valuable donation from a very wealthy patron--a landscape painted by one of the country's most beloved 20th C artists.  But all is not as it seems.  One of the museum's conservator's believes that it is a fake and he and Hanna begin looking for clues to where this painting came from and what lies underneath the idyllic scene painted on the canvas's top layer. Hanna is taken into the dark world of art forgery...but does anyone else really want her to discover the truth?  And will the truth cost her the job she's just acquired?
It's always difficult to rate books that I'm reading in translation--particularly when they don't strike me as particularly awesome.  I never know if it's really the story and the way it was originally written or if something funky has happened in translation.  The Perfect Landscape by Ragna Sigurdardottir (translated by Sarah Bowen) provides such a dilemma.  My first-ever mystery set in Iceland--I'm afraid I'm very under-whelmed.  It moves very slowly.  The mystery plot just really doesn't flow.  Others on Goodreads have said that the book is more character-driven, but I can't say that the characters particularly grabbed me either.  The story has a very choppy feel to it--again, I don't know if something was lost in the translation.  Then there's Hanna's running theme of fencing--which just, quite honestly serves no purpose.  Perhaps if the author had worked in some scenes of her fencing, had shown how much she loved the sport and why the metaphors were so valid for her (instead of telling us--repeatedly), then maybe it would have made sense to tell us that Hanna was mentally en garde or raising or sheathing an imaginary foil.  Without the groundwork being laid, the imagery just falls flat.  And, finally, I just don't really get into present tense tales and the present tense in this particular story just adds to the already odd feel of the book.  

The best part of the story is Hanna's interactions with Stein.  Their friendship builds through looks and unspoken agreements.  It is the most believable interaction in the novel--the quick recognition of two kindred souls who share the same passion for art and justice.  I would have really enjoyed more focus on the two of them.  Keeping them as friends would have been fine--no need to add to the attempt at romantic tension.  Two stars--almost entirely for Hanna and Stein.


J F Norris said...

I've read most of the mysteries by Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridisson (spelling may be off there) and though they are bleak with some truly depressing topics I was fascinated by them all. Especially VOICES and HYPERTHERMIA, the second one may be the best of the entire series. The translations are excellent. Unfortunately, the guy who translated most of those books (Bernard Scudder) died in 2011. his co-worker, a woman named Victoria Cribb, has since taken over translating those books. Still captures the flavor very well. I've wanted to try Yrsa Sigurdottir's books (also translated by Scudder), but they are massive tomes and I just can't read a mystery novel that exceeds 375 pages anymore.

Yvette said...

This sounds like one I will skip, Bev. I'm not fond of the grim and gloom of that mysteries set in that area of the world. Jeez, there's enough of that in real life.

But books in translation are an odd pill to swallow for me. I do read some, but that translation has to work for me so that I don't notice it. Know what I mean?

And you know how much I despise present tense story telling.

Still, I enjoyed your review. Forewarned is forearmed. (Or is it the other way around?) :)

Bev Hankins said...

@John: Yeah, I'm not big (Ha!) on large tome mysteries myself. This one was pretty short (thankfully). I'm still trying to figure out if the story was really that bad or if it was the translation and tense that killed it for me.

@Yvette: There have been very few present tense stories that have grabbed me. So few, in fact, that I can't think of a single one at the moment....