The Book of Air and Shadows

This book is a perfect example of why I’ve taken to purchasing most of my books from Barnes & Noble as opposed to using Amazon.  Because when I walk into B&N, I usually have a list of books that I’m looking for, but I also spend some time browsing through the various sections of the bookstore looking for anything that sounds interesting.  So a while ago I came across The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber, and something about the title caught my eye, so I went on to read the blurb on the back of the book.  From the description it sounded very similar to The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (which is a wonderful book).  There were some interesting things in this book, but there were also some problems, anyway, on with the review.

Book Stats

466 pages

Thriller; Drama

Characters

This book revolves around two main characters, Jake Mishkin and Albert Crosetti.  Jake is an older man who works as an Intellectual Property lawyer in NYC.  In the beginning of the book, I absolutely hated reading the chapters from Jake’s viewpoint, because he spends about half of his time in the first several chapters talking about the orgasmic tendencies of all the women that he’s slept with.  I’m not a prudish person by any stretch of the imagination, but it had very little to do with the story and was just annoying to read.  Thankfully this fell off later in the book, but it was replaced by an annoyance from Crosetti.  Crosetti is a younger man who is an aspiring screenwriter.  His sections early in the book were quite interesting, but at the end of the book he was breaking everything down into how it would play out in a movie.  So basically the two characters flipped, one was interesting in the beginning and annoying at the end, and vice versa.

Setting

Present day NYC as well as several different cities in Europe.

Plot

While Crosetti is working at a small rare book store in NYC, there is a fire in the restaurant next door.  This ends up damaging several of the very old books in the store.  As Crosetti helps Carolyn Rolly (another employee at the bookstore) try and restore the books, they discover an old manuscript in the binding of some of the books.  It turns out that the manuscript is a letter from a man who knew William Shakespeare and hints at the location of an unknown play by Shakespeare.  Crosetti sells part of the manuscript to a local English professor, who then goes to Mishkin for advice as to who owns the rights to this letter and the possible Shakespeare play.  The book then follows their adventures trying to decipher the encrypted manuscript pages so that they can find the play which they imagine would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Enjoyment

The prose in this book was very well written, but as I was reading it I wanted to tell Gruber to quit trying to be cute with the prose and just tell the story.  For example, Mishkin’s chapters actually start out with him in a cabin where he ends the book, and it talks about how he is writing down the story as he remembers it.  This is kind of neat as it allows him to include some random thoughts about the events having had time to look back on them, but it’s kind of sloppily done.  As we move into the middle sections of the book, there are less of these asides and it starts to read like a normal book where the author is describing what happened to the character.  All of the sections early on where he was describing how different women show their orgasms was simply annoying.  I don’t see how they affected the story at all, and I think it was just Gruber trying to see what he could get away with in writing the book.  (It reminded me of Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer, which I also think was an example of the author trying to see what he could get away with.)

Crosetti’s sections towards the end were equally annoying, with him narrating about what is going to happen next in the “movie” that they’re living in.  This is really annoying in the last couple of chapters where the story in the book is unravelling exactly as he is narrating it.

The story of trying to find the lost manuscript and working to solve the cipher and unlocking the hidden message could have been really interesting, but Gruber essentially ruined his story by playing with the prose and the idea of what makes a story rather than simply telling the story.

Overall Grade

There’s some interesting author’s message kind of stuff in this book, but it’s overdone and the story suffers because of it.

4/10

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8 Comments

  1. Browsing bookstores is awesome because you find things that don’t just follow whatever formula the magic elves at Amazon use to calculate what kind of books you might like.

    I started reading “Firebird” by Merecedes Lackey a few weeks ago and it did the same thing with the sex, to the point that I put the book down. Pretty much the entire book so far has been the protagonist whining about his sex life and sleeping with dairy maids. I’m not a prude either, but after fifty pages of what felt like filler material I just got bored with it. It’s frustrating when authors do that.

    Reply
    • If you’re reading a romance novel and talking about the sex is the point of the book it would probably work a little better, but to emphasize it that much when it’s a very small subplot of the story is simply irritating.

      The magic elves at Amazon are actually starting to irritate me. One of the biggest problems they have is showing me multiple versions of the same story. For example, I’ve had at least two or three different versions of every book in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series come up, and the same thing for the Wheel of Time. The books will come up as Hardcover, Paperback, and Audio, and apparently they’re all listed separately in Amazon’s database, which is annoying. It also bothers me when I buy a collection of books. Take for example David Eddings’ Belgariad. I bought the series of 5 books in a 2 volume collection (the first volume has books 1-3, the second 4 & 5). After telling Amazon that I had both volumes of the collection, the individual books started coming up. So I was again had to tell Amazon multiple times that I owned a book. I sent Amazon an email talking about it and got a generic “sorry for the inconvenience” response back. It’s really turned me off from using Amazon.

      Reply
      • I haven’t had as much of a problem with that ever since I set my preferences to show Kindle edition if there was one as first priority (although I’m not even sure how I did that). I just get frustrated because Amazon assumes you want to read the same thing all the time. I mean, it’s great if you’re discovering a genre (like I’ve been doing with sci-fi) and are looking for new books, but if you’re looking for something different you’re not going to get any real suggestions.

  2. Thanks for the review…sounds like the author had a good idea but just tried to hard to be clever. That isn’t something you can force.

    Reply
    • I’m all for trying creative things when writing books, but when they’re inconsistent and don’t serve the story it starts to annoy me.

      Reply
  3. It sounds like you had much the same reaction to this book as I did.

    I found the way he jumped backwards and forward within the timeline confusing and unnecessary rather than clever. He seemed to be trying way to hard to be original. Also, there were unanswered questions about the supposed fraud, like the exact that 2 trained archaeologists couldn’t tell that the burial site was a hoax. The whole orgasm thing was like a sledge hammer: OK, I get it, the man is a self-centered douche bag! It made me actively wish for Jake to bite the big one, whilst I think I was supposed to be concerned for his safety, so it was a major mis-step.

    My book group agreed that the most interesting and successful parts of the book were the transcripts of the letters, although we also agreed that we didn’t need the Shakespearean script because it was a transcript!

    In short, the cover did the book a disservice by making it look better than it was! 😀

    Reply
    • The idea was pretty good, and I wanted to like the book, but the execution was very badly done.

      Reply
  1. May 2012 Month in Review « Reviews and Ramblings

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