Thursday, April 16, 2009

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner

Books in translation. These books are a quandary for me because I am never sure what to say about the writing. Do I review the book as though it is in its original form? Or does the translator play a role in the description of the book? Americans praise Victor Hugo for his writing style, but is it really Hugo they are praising or random translator #32 whose version of Les Miserables everyone is reading this year?

This question is cogent when discussing Murder on the Eiffel Tower because I had trouble with the flow of the book. I found myself stopping and starting and couldn't get into a good reading groove. I have no idea if the problem is the translation, the attempt to turn French prose into English, or the difference in French and English writing styles at the base. Whatever the answer, my first observation about Izner's book was that it didn't read smoothly. It was jarring in its speech.

My second quandary about Izner's book is about the historical content. As a French historian I understood the plot of the novel. I would guess that the average Frenchman reading would also understand the book. But I don't know that the average American has enough background in late-nineteenth century French history to grasp the nuances of the story. I'm not trying to suggest Americans are dumb, but if you handed an Italian a book about Abraham Lincoln would you automatically assume he would know about the log cabin, the Gettysburg Address, and Ford's Theater?

Izner(which by the way is a pen name for sisters Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefèvre) solves that conundrum by including a short description of the 1889 Expo at the end of the book to explain the setting. But I think that would need to be read first. And it still doesn't explain the Boulanger Affair which is thrown around like a current day conversation about Britney Spears. And a handful of the names are play on words in French but just names in English.

The story takes place in and around the World's Fair for which the Eiffel Tower was constructed. Much of the action takes place amid the action at the Expo. Individuals have died from what people believe to be bee stings. Victor Legris, a bookseller, becomes involved due to friends' connections to the death. His frenetic searching describes much of the story.

As a fan of French history and mysteries in general, I will undoubtedly keep reading Izner. I have the next book on my bookshelf already. But, I don't know that this book would have wide appeal. Francophiles, yes. General mystery lovers, not necessarily.

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