If Watchmen was an important book that didn’t quite entertain, The Defector is a wholly unimportant book that’s fairly entertaining.
Part of a series starring an Israeli secret agent / art restorer, The Defector concerns a Russian defector (the titular character) the agent smuggled out of Russia and used to undermine a major Russian mafia figure. The defector has disappeared from the streets of London and the Israeli is summoned from the Italian villa where’s he’s restoring a painting for the Pope.
The Defector is the perfect airplane novel (less suited for the episodic nature of subway reading) – moving quickly and with some superficial emotional involvement (I hate the woman/child-in-peril trope and this book includes pregnant-woman-in-peril). The novel also feels reasonably “realistic” – not that I know anything about the CIA, MI6 or Mossad – but spends a decent amount of time on the “how” of creating covers and safe houses, which I found interesting.
So, not great literature, but fun. Next up – The Women by T.C. Boyle.
I’ve held off on posting a review of Watchmen because I’d been hoping to see the movie first, which is available on HBO On Demand right now, but the Writer wants to see it too and our schedules have prevented us from finding the couple hours necessary.
The main reason I want to see the movie is to see how they handled some pretty unlikable characters – The Comedian is a US army shill who tried to rape a fellow hero, Rorschach has the morality of Scott Roeder – able to justify vicious crimes by his uncompromising sense of morality, Doctor Manhattan has all but lost his humanity. I appreciated the sensitivity with which Silk Spectre’s affair with Nite Owl II was handled – while not middle-aged myself, I enjoy seeing a love story between adults who have pasts. I’m not sure if I was supposed to see Nite Owl as slightly pathetic – he really did look owlish, and not particularly heroic, in costume.
The other element that would seem difficult to translate to the screen is the layering, not only of each character’s arcs and flashbacks to earlier days of glory, as well as faux documents interleaved into the books, but also the framing and commentary provided by the pirate comic books being read by a young man sitting at a news stall. It’s occasionally a bit too on the nose, using “voiceover” in the pirate story to comment quite directly on the moral quandaries facing would-be heroes.
Ultimately, I am glad I read Watchmen, but I’m not sure I was entertained by it. The lack of sympathetic characters, the unrelenting negativity (it’s a Cold War work, focusing on Russians, the bomb, the economy, gang violence) – I enjoyed looking for all the literary allusions (the Gordian Knot lock company and so on) and was repaid with them being significant to the plot, but I really just wanted a happy ending.
Over the holidays, reading Byron in Love confirmed that I shouldn’t pick my own books. It was highly recommended in a review I can’t find now. All the ones Google pulls up confirm my assessment that it’s deeply unbalanced, providing way too little of Byron’s literary merits or even the non-sexual components of his relationships to flesh out the catalog of sexual perversity.
Santa, on the other hand, enabled me in my favorite rut, stuffing Edvard Radzinsky’s The Rasputin File in my stocking. Odd reading on a Belizean beach, but deeply satisfying and it provides an intriguing reinterpretation of Rasputin’s murder. The only thing I would have added would be more photos and reproductions of contemporary photos and news stories, since the contemporary publicity of Rasputin’s exploits was a significant factor in undermining the Russian people’s faith in their rulers and helped open them to the idea of Communist revolution.
Yesterday, I finished The Collector on the way to work, but everyone on the N Train was on a Blackberry or PSP, so it wasn’t until the ride home I was able to find a new book. The first person I sat next to was a woman about my age with a huge book spread open on her knees. I sighed a bit, since the long ones slow down my posting schedule, but a glance at the top of the page showed it to be Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth! Saved, I turned to The New Yorker (highly recommend last week’s review of a book arguing van Gogh didn’t cut off his own ear) and forgot to look for a new book until I’d switched to the R in Brooklyn, where a scruffy guy had a bright yellow book in hand. It turned out to be The Watchmen graphic novel, with the bleeding smiley cover obviating the need to see the title. The Writer happens to own the original printing of the comics in book form (as well as the original comics, but I wouldn’t dream of touching those), so for once, no need to wait on the NYPL.