Saturday, 17 March 2012

Valerio Massimo Manfredi - The Ancient Curse

This is much more my cup of tea from Manfredi - a book about archaeology. Ever since Indiana Jones, I thought archaeology was cool and not just because of the whip and guns and being chased by Nazis. I also have an appreciation for the science behind it and if anyone has an interest then The Ancient Curse is right up there in the ‘books that do it well without using alien terms’ category. If it does go a bit specialist there is always a handy police officer to say something along the lines of, ‘speak English Fabrizio!’

That’s the main praise for the book. There’s more but I’m not sure it counts as I think the reasons for my enjoyment were not intended. I’m going to write this review as a shit sandwich. The bit above is praise. I’m now going to state what I don’t like and finish off with yet more praise. Hence, sandwiching some shit between two bits of praise.

The perspective is often inconsistent which makes the book hard to follow at times. This is a real shame as, at 247 pages, it’s not an exceptionally long novel. This can’t be blamed on translation issues either, which is why I’ve ignored a lot of grammatical differences as that would be unfair.
The remainder of the comments could be put down to the difference between Italian and English culture but some of them are too funny not to mention. They also taught me many things about Italian culture.

The first one occurs on pages 75 and 76 where Fabrizio and his love interest Francesca have a bizarre argument over nothing. The sexual tension is highlighted but it goes through the notches at a lightening pace. In the space of four short lines we go from threatening, to warning to ‘I was upset,’ (all Fabrizio) to ‘Get over it,’ (Francesca) and finished off with ‘I would invite you for coffee, but...’ (Francesca). The interesting thing is that Francesca is clearly wearing the trousers. Lesson learned; Italian women are feisty.

The romance imagery on page 117 is classy and blindingly well done, but I did read this book directly after Torment where romance was ramming tongues down each other’s throats. Lesson learned; Italian men can charm the pants off anyone.

Page 137 highlights what I hope is a man’s fear of commitment rather than a sentiment we are all supposed to share when Fabrizio thinks his relationship with Francesca was ‘too serious from the start.’ You’re having an archaeological adventure. In the words of Francesca, get over it. Lesson learned; Manfredi is really good at connecting with the male psyche and highlights the international issue of men being afraid of commitment.

It all gets a bit saucy on page 142 where the local police man wants to get frisky with Fabrizio’s colleague, Sonia (who, incidentally, has one or two phone sex conversations with Fabrizio). However I was disappointed with the punch line of what I can only assume was a joke; ‘someone like her can’t just spend all her time with bones, right? She must like flesh as well I hope.’ Where was the boner joke? It was set up so well and right there for the taking and it’s a man talking to another man. No? Just me? You can’t argue the ‘classiness’ of the book after Fabrizio’s lude sex conversations with Sonia. And this was all preceded by ‘I wouldn’t mind having a go.’ Smooth. Lesson learned; Italian humour is not that funny.

Page 145 nearly made me wet myself. Fabrizio calls another of his colleagues for help with an inscription. His colleague asks him two questions and this is followed by the narrative, ‘The telephone call was turning into an uncomfortable interrogation.’ Two questions is not an interrogation. Lesson learned; Italians – touchy when sleepy.

All of it adds to the comical value of the novel, none of which I thought was intended but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless, and I commend it for the level of research that went into it as well as the great imagery created by the vivid description sections. Sandwiched.

The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi was published by Pan Books in 2010. RRP£6.99 (Paperback)

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