Book review: A Very Private Gentleman

…aka. THE AMERICAN. By Martin Booth.

I picked this book up at a friend’s place and with just the first line, I was hooked.

High in these mountains, the Apennines, the spinal cord of Italy, with its vertebrae of infant stone to which the tendons and the flesh of the old world are attached, there is a small cave high up a precipice.

I’m not usually a fan of first-person novels, but I do think this one uses the form well. Reading the words of the Gentleman enabled me to discern his way of living (meditatively, with caution) from the careful style of his writing. The events that occur also help to illustrate, but the feel of his narrative lends a great deal to his character. (After finishing the novel, I cannot see how George Clooney could have been cast. I shall have to watch the film to decide whether or not he was the best choice. I don’t know that Clooney is quite old enough yet.)

To summarise the plot without giving too much away: The Gentleman is on his last job as a gunsmith (though what he does cannot truly be explained by only that one word), as he wishes to retire. He has come to an Italian village to complete the work, with his cover being that of a painter of butterflies. Thus, he is called Signor Farfalla (Mr Butterfly) by the locals. He occasionally indulges in interludes with Clara, a young woman who moonlights as a prostitute.

The novel is almost meandering, not a thriller in the sense that the reader might expect from seeing the movie tie-in cover, where George is running and has a gun in hand. The plot twists are unexpected which makes for a satisfying ending.

Star rating: 4 of 5.

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