Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Secret of the Gondola: Mini-Review

Synopsis (from the back of the book): A masterpiece by Canaletto leads a young art historian on the trail of an unsolved mystery. When Jeremy Allyn, a young art historian, is assigned eighteenth-century painter Canaletto’s Vedute by his teacher as the topic for his dissertation, he decides to focus on a secondary feature, Canaletto’s figures. Allyn uses his camera phone to solve a centuries-old mystery, thanks to clues left by the painter employing a mobile device of his time--the camera obscura. With the action taking place over a single day, art and technology, as well as ambition, romance, and a brutal crime intersect in a series of step-by-step revelations culminating in a startling deus ex machina at the end.

I opted to just quote the synopsis from the book cover and to make this a mini-review for two reasons. First, this is a very short book. Very short. (44 pages) And I was afraid that I might make the synopsis either full of spoilers or, at the very least, longer than the book itself. Second, I don't have a lot to say on this one.

The premise was fantastic--the book jumped off the library's "New Arrivals" shelf and into my hands and as soon as I read the synopsis I was hooked. But. When I started reading it--what a let-down. As I mentioned this is one short book....and as far as I can tell the primary purpose was to give the reader every bit of knowledge David Alan Brown (he would be the author) has about Canaletto, painting in Italy in the 1700s, and the camera obscura. Tons of dry as dust info-very little story. And when we get to the big discovery (finally!), he crams it all into about five pages (five tiny pages--the book is about 4 inches square). Brown could have done so much with this story to make it interesting, but didn't. The startling ending mentioned above doesn't even do it. If anything, it feels rather like a cheat--like he knew the book wasn't all that intriguing and, hey, why don't I try to spice it up with this surprise ending? The book is okay--great premise, poor execution. ★★


J F Norris said...

I had to see if this was self-published. Turns out Skira Rizzoli is renowned for publishing art books and Brown is a prominent curator at The National Gallery. Do you smell connections? I do! Also, much to my surprise the first link to appear in my Google search was a review in the The Wall Street Journal written by the editor of Art and Antiques magazine. See what happens when you work for one of the country's leading art museums and write a short story and pass it off as a book? But I'm not cynical, am I? ;^) Oh! here's the final sentence in the WSJ review: " amiable piece of fiction suitable either for beach reading or for giving as a hostess gift at a summer house party." What a backhanded compliment!

Bev Hankins said...

Very interesting, John. You put more effort into it than I did...I knew it was short-story length. I just thought there would be more actual story.

fredamans said...

It does sound good, but sorry to see it was a little disappointing. Great review!