Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fred Vargas in my newspaper ...

... not here and now also online! My review of Vargas' latest novel, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, appears in Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.

My two-part interview with Vargas earlier this month expanded on questions touched on in the review. No surprise there; The Ghost Riders of Ordebec was what made me want to interview her in the first place. Vargas uses her much-ballyhooed quirkiness to good advantage in the book, and she offers a fine explanation for that quirkiness in the interview.

Thanks to Paul Davis for letting me know the review had turned up online.
*

In the meantime, I've finished reading Barry Cunliffe's Britain Begins and started his Europe Between the Oceans. It's refreshing to read stories told on such a large scale, combining hard science and informed speculation, told by a master of his subject who is unafraid to admit when the existing state of knowledge simply does not permit a question to be answered.  The man can write, too, and his story is as exciting as any tale of aliens or lost Atlantises, but without the looniness and the unsavory preying on the gullibility of the weak-minded.

Cunliffe takes the longue durée approach to history. That is, he focuses on long-term environmental and geographical structures that underlie and outlast wars, migrations, and other such events of traditional history.  The term longue durée is associated with the Annales School of French historians, coined by Fernand Braudel, author of The Identity of France, the three-volume Civilization and Capitalism, and others.

Among the great man's translators was Sian Reynolds, who, when not translating some of the most influential historical writing of the twentieth century, translates the crime novels of — Fred Vargas.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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22 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Any chance you could post the review in a week or two on the blog here?

I know the Melbourne Age doesn't mind if I reprint my reviews on my blog as long as I've put some time between the newspaper review and the blog review and linked back to the newspaper story....

Sirens in the Philly Inq anytime soon?

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll try to figure out a way to link it. And I'd love to see Sirens in the Inq, but they're squeezed like hell for space, cautious about going beyond the big names, and so on.. It was all I could do to get that "Eight crime writers"piece in the paper some time back. Maybe I could use Belfast Noir as a hook: Northern Ireland crime fiction may be about to hit big, get in on the ground floor now, etc.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Paul Davis said...

Peter,

You can see your review online via Philly.com - http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/literature/20130630_A_crime_novel_that_s_both_prodigious_and_pedestrian.html

Good review.

Paul

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Kathy D. said...

I will read the interview. Glad to do so, and hopefully, you can post the review of Ordebec soon.

I love Fred Vargas' books. She can do not wrong, a brilliant, creative writer who does engage in quirkiness. And why not?

If one wants the opposite of formulaic mysteries and is sick of the insipid and boring, read about Adamsberg, and his team of Danglard, Retancourt and others, eccentrics all.

I so enjoyed this book, and was sad to turn the last page. I miss the team, Leo, Flek, Zeck, Mo, the pigeon and Normandy.

I cannot wait for her next book and will eagerly read the interview.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That crime and espionage guy (and occasional fellow Inquirer reviewer) Paul Davis sent a comment that:

Paul Davis has left a new comment on your post "Fred Vargas in my newspaper, but ...":

Peter,

You can see your review online via Philly.com - http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/literature/20130630_A_crime_novel_that_s_both_prodigious_and_pedestrian.html


Good review.

Paul

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul: Thanks for the link and the compliment. When did you find the link and what search terms did you use? I could not find the review earlier on Philly.com And, in a second dose of technological weirdness, your comment arrived via-email but but never showed up on my comment list.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul: One mystery solved. My machine booted your first comment to the spam file. I have retrieved and posted it. Thanks again.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, you can read the review online now. I don't know how that Paul Davis was able to find it. I had looked in the same places he did. Maybe the review was just posted late. In any case, I'm glad it's up now.

Vargas can occasionally go overboard with the quirkiness. The one example that stands out for me is the scene of the tracker cat in, I think, Seeking Whom He May Devour. I remember thinking at the time that an author can handle a scene like that one of two ways: briefly, to make the humorous point that a cat can act like a dog, or, taking a risk and stretching the scene out to considerable length with the idea that can stand as more than just a clever, amusing joke. Vargas chose the latter, and the scene did not work for me.

But it all worked for me in this book. My one quibble was that the solution to the central crime seemed a bit arbitrary. But that hardly mattered because she told the multi-plot story so well. The next Vargas novel to appear in English, by the way, will likely be one of her earlier books.

You may remember that Vargas also sends Adamsberg to Normandy in This Night's Foul Work and has fun doing so.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy: I was glad to see that things turned out well for the pigeon, and I thought, too, it was good strategy on Vargas' part not to resolve the matter entirely. Insistence on tying up every loose end, on resolving every subplot as thoroughly as one resolves the main plot, can make for monotonous storytelling.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Kathy D. said...

I was watching the pigeon's progress -- or not -- as a parallel to the overall investigation. When he started venturing outside, I knew we were on the way to resolution.

I don't remember the cat in Devour. However, I don't take every event literally, but just see each one as part of the overall story and it's fine.

I have one annoyance about the books but I don't want to mention it because a spoiler could result.

I posted more at part 2 of the interview. Always glad to read more about this enigmatic scientist and writer.

June 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I just thought the cat scene was a bit strained, whether one regards it as true or fanciful. I quite liked the pigeon subplot. It was eccentric, fanciful, and believable at the same time, and I thought Vargas integrated it well into the story without overstating it.

July 01, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Oops! I gave away my ARC of the Vargas book. My quick perusal of the book left me cold and uninterested. Perhaps I made a mistake. Ah, well, life is short, and there are too many books.

Of course, Vargas's books are a problem for me: I once--long, long ago in the 60s--was head over heels (in vain) for a fellow student (her nickname was Fred, and she was a bit like Lauren Bacall), and I cannot sever that memory from reading Vargas. Now, isn't that a lousy criterion for author/book preferences?

July 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That criterion is probably no worse than some I've heard. Just place a piece of duct tape over that author's name on the cover.

July 01, 2013  
Blogger R.T. said...

Ah, now you’ve (or I’ve) opened a can of worms: the criteria for reading choices, and the criteria for evaluation. Ever since the middle of the 20th century, literary critics have been scrambling to come up with more or less objective criteria for judging the quality of literary works. Beginning with the New Critics (and their denunciation of the affective fallacy), and continuing through all the French imports (structuralism, deconstruction, etc.), the criteria remain somewhat up-for-grabs. Each decade has a new flavor that is embraced by literary critics, and the old flavors fall into disfavor. So, all of that leads to this question: what criteria do you rely upon for judging the merits or demerits of a novel? Can you ever be objective? Or are you, like so many critics and reviewers (each group a different species), prey to your own subjective (and affective) fallacies? Or, to ask the question another way, what makes one critic or reviewer more sensible or trustworthy than another critic or reviewer?

July 01, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I am decidedly prey to my own fallacies, with the tempering influences of what I consider good taste and a willingness, now and then, to be surprised. But objective? Hell, no. But then, I write few reviews, really.

July 01, 2013  
Blogger Kathy D. said...

Just read the excellent review and agree with it. I think there were a few clues leading to the culprit that seemed to him that character.

One other element, which I enjoyed was the use of a character from a prior book, who is in prison and then released to help an injured elderly character.

All in all, a joy to read from start to finish. The politics were inserted just enough for readers who eschew social issues with their murders. I could have read more of it but Vargas is like a pastry chef, just putting in a dollop of this or a dash of that.

As I mentioned, I was quite sad to leave Normandy and Leo, Flek, the zany family.

I hope that Fred Vargas' next book is published soon and available in English quickly. I hate waiting for Adamsberg's investigations to take so long to reach us.

July 02, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the compliment. Yes, there were clues to that character, but he could just as easily have been another one of Vargas' eccentrics. But, as I wrote, the whodunit is not an important part of the book, so this barely lessened my pleasure in the reading.

July 02, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a nice comparison with a pastry chef. I knew a pastry chef who had also done other restaurant jobs, and she said being a pastry chef was harder than being a regular chef because it required such a delicate balance of ingredients.

July 02, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Yeah its a classic Catch 22 isnt it?

The only way to get reviewed is to be a big name and the only way to become a big name is to get reviewed.

Or you could be a prep school boy who lives in Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights if you want to get into the Times...

July 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Blogger permitting ...

You could adopt a nom de plume. I suggest one with three names, or else "Benjamin Black."

July 03, 2013  
Blogger Kathy D. said...

I agree. The whodunnit element of Ordebec is not the crucial point of the story. It's the Gestalt, the entire book, the eccentric characters, the medieval folk lore, Normandy, Zeck, Mo, Leo, the pigeon, the "expert" from the prior book, so much. Such a pleasure.

And knowing as I do, two friends who are gourmet pastry makers, though not professionals, it is hard work and requires exact ingredients and utensils, a perfect oven, timing.

July 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My pastry chef acquaintance said that in a regular pastry, if you put in a bit too much of one ingredient, you can compensate by putting in a bit more of something else. Apparently the balance is more delicate with pastry.

One thing that I noticed more in this novel than in Vargas' previous books is that managing of various plot strands that are part of the story without intersecting, in the manner of Ed McBain. Vargas discussed this in an interview to which I linked a month or two ago.

July 06, 2013  

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