Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Alan Furst: Mission to Paris

I think I've read everything that Alan Furst has published. If I haven't, it's an unconscious omission. And I wrote about him at some length in 2005.

So, what of his latest, Mission to Paris? Well, once again, it may be just me, but I thought this one was disappointing. It is a feature of Furst's work that it is (for me) patchy. All you can do is suck it and see.

As in all his work, the pre-war period and the European setting are immaculately researched; and the period details, even if invented, are entirely convincing. The portraits of the Nazis are accurate and, I'm afraid, all too realistic in revealing (as I mentioned in 2005) what an appalling and terrifying bunch of shits they all were.

And therein, for me, lay the rub. My age is such that I have some personal memories of the second world war. So for me, it's not just an interesting period of history, like, say, Tudor times. It's a time when people I was just old enough to know personally went off to war and didn't come back. (You might, perhaps, care to look at my review of an autobiographical book, To War with Whitaker, where I discuss this personal history in the antepenultimate paragraph.)

So, I didn't take to Mission to Paris. In particular, I find that it prompted me to start thinking about all the present (largely financial) difficulties in the Eurozone. It seemed to me that there are worrying parallels between the Europe of 1938 and the Europe of today. Massive problems,and everyone just hoping that, with a bit of luck, they will all go away. Let's hope they do, otherwise the financial system of Europe (not to mention the world) will probably collapse.

So, for me, reading Mission to Europe was an unnerving and unsettling experience. And, frankly, I don't read novels to be unnerved and unsettled.

After writing the above, and only after it, I went to the novel's Amazon.com page, and found it instructive to read the one-star reviews. These contain, I fear, a large measure of truth; though the reviewers are, I think, unnecessarily brutal. I would give it two or three stars. But I also think it is worth noting that nearly all of the one-star reviews clearly come from educated and literate readers who had hoped for so much better.

As for the price business, which I discussed the other day, I can only say that I am very glad I didn't pay £9.99 for the Kindle version.


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