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“No one really knows whether all the beautiful works of art hanging in the world’s great museums are genuine or fakes.  Least of all the learned curators and conservators employed  by institutions such as this one.  It’s the dirty little secret they don’t like to talk about….The truth is, they get fooled all the time.  By one estimate at least twenty percent of all the paintings in the National Gallery in London are misattributed works or outright forgeries.  And I can assure you, the statistics for the private art market are much worse.” – Sarah Bancroft.

silva portrait uninown woman cover

Art restorer Gabriel Allon has spent much of his life tending to art masterpieces which are in danger and need rescue, repair, restoration or all of these attentions.  His travels, full of peril as he works to solve evil plots which often surround these priceless art treasures,  have taken him all over the world, and it has only been recently that he and his wife Chiara and their twin children have finally settled down, perhaps permanently, in Venice.  Gabriel is not in the best of health.  Still recovering from a bullet wound which left him clinically dead for ten minutes on his most recent assignment, he has now, officially, ended his employment as former head of the Israeli intelligence service while he tries to find the kind of peace which makes his restoration work such a joy.  Soon after this novel opens, however, a long-time acquaintance, Julian Isherwood, asks Allon to become involved with a painting – “Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” attributed to Anthony Van Dyck – and to find out everything possible about it.  Almost immediately, he finds himself being followed from Harry’s Bar, a favorite place in Venice,  by a man who refuses to raise his hands and drop a weapon when confronted by Allon.  Allon makes quick work of him, only to discover when he searches the unconscious man for identification, that the man is Capitano Luca Rossetti of the Venice division of Il Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Artistico – the Art Squad of Italy.  

Entrance to Harry's Bar in Venice

Entrance to Harry’s Bar in Venice

What follows is, perhaps, author Daniel Silva’s most complex crime novel.  Dozens of characters, some of them with more than one name, interact with him and, often with each other, as they work to identify and validate the Portrait of an Unknown Woman, attributed to Sir Anthony van Dyck, and the circumstances under which the painting was discovered. In an international art market, sales of frauds are frequent.  Many famous paintings are believed to be fraudulent, yet they continue to be shown – and sold – even as investigations into their legitimacy are being conducted.  As Gabriel Allon begins his investigations, the settings are constantly changing – Venice to Paris to London to New York City – and on to Corsica, Marseilles, New York again, Rome, Madrid, Florence, and many other places.  At each location, Allon meets new people and discovers information about the “Unknown Woman” painting and the people associated with it.  Its artistic history, its most recent owners and sellers, and the various Art Squads or museums which may be associated with it gradually emerge.  


National Center for Research and Restoration, France, “the world’s most scientifically advanced facility for the conservation and authentication of art.”

Silva plays a game with the reader here, unlike anything I have noticed in his past novels.  Here, Allon, perhaps because of his recent injuries and/or his desire to come to some kind of resolution about all the fakes and frauds surrounding him in the art world, changes himself, becoming quite a different person. Instead of maintaining his honesty and sense of honor, in which he has always prided himself, he joins the large group of fraudsters and their financiers throughout the western world and begins to create fraudulent “masterpieces” by the “greatest painters” of the western world.  He becomes almost totally dissociated from his wife and children in Venice and leads a separate life of crime, surrounded by some of his own fraudulent “masterpieces” which appear throughout Europe and New York.  He is so effective at creating these that he can produce one new painting every three or four days – each one so “authentic,” even in the craquelure – the little cracks in the paint and varnish which ancient paintings have – that no one can tell that they are newly created.

This portrait (1634-35) is part of the Queen’s Gallery at Windsor Castle. It has not been part of the investigation regarding authenticity. It has been hanging in Buckingham Palace since 1790.

“Portrait of an Unknown Woman.” This portrait (1634-35) has been part of the Queen’s Gallery at Windsor Castle since 1790. It has not been part of any investigation.

Adding to the complications of the novel and intensifying the depiction of the high art world is the larger environment which gradually evolves as Allon’s involvement increases.  Seemingly legitimate corporations and art storage companies allow hundreds of fake “antique” paintings, supposedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars to sell and resell, creating episodes of bank fraud and obvious arguments over the authenticity of a work’s provenance.  Questions begin about a storage company’s ability to unload these works quickly to reduce their own exposure in this market – a market which is completely unregulated by governments.  One well-known company owns, according to Allon, 227 major forgeries worth $300 million.  A rush on the market begins, creating increased personal danger to Gabriel Allon, losses in the millions for owners and fraudsters, and immense danger to many of the participants.  

Author Daniel Silva

Author Daniel Silva

This complex novel with approximately fifty named characters is a challenge which benefits when the reader keeps a character list, though that also damages the moods in which the author is using these characters because it slows down the action. The various characters reappear throughout, becoming more complex as the action involves them more directly as it moves throughout Europe and New York.  Silva is a complex and thoughtful author with great insights here into the unregulated art market, and lovers and collectors of art, even those whose own collections are virtual, rather than actual, will become fascinated by the intricacies of this world.  Gabriel Allon enjoys his work, at least for a while:  “Just four months earlier he had been the director-general of one of the world’s most formidable intelligence services [in Israel].  Now, he thought, smiling, he had found a new line of work.  Art Smuggler” –  a job that offered full-time excitement on a global scale.

Photos:  The entrance to Harry’s Bar in Venice may be found here:  https://en.wikipedia.org

France’s great National Center for Research and Restoration, “the world’s most scientifically advanced facility for the conservation and authentication of art,”  is from https://en.wikipedia.org

A “Portrait of an Unknown Woman” is part of the Queen’s Gallery.  It  has been hanging in Buckingham Palace since 1790 and is not part of the action here. https://www.rct.uk/

The author’s photo appears on https://www.today.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. Corsica, France, Italy, Mystery, Thriller, Noir, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Daniel Silva
Published by: Harper
Date Published: 07/19/2022
ISBN: 978-0062834850
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

“I have never respected chronological order.  It has never existed for me.  Present and past blend together in a kind of transparency, and every instant I lived in my youth appears to me in an eternal present, set apart from everything.”  Jean Eyben, narrator

coverI readily admit that I have found Patrick Modiano to be the most fascinating author I have ever experienced, and I have read most, if not all, of his books in print in English.  His unique upbringing in post-war France, essentially without parents or real stand-ins for them, his search for his identity through his writing, and his honesty as he approaches life make each book, which he calls a novel here,  a unique experience for the reader as much as it must have been for the author.  He has published two books in English since receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014 – Sleep of Memory in 2017, and Invisible Ink, in 2019. A third book, Chevreuse, not yet in English but expected in 2023, was released in French in 2021, and is on Yale University Press’s docket for publication in English in 2023.  All his books so far are highly autobiographical, even Invisible Ink, which he describes as a “mystery novel.”  Though his readers may never know how much of the story in Invisible Ink is purely fiction, his method of composition and his presentation of his story line are unique, dependent upon a background in which he says in the quotation opening this review, that chronological order has never existed for him (or, in this case, the narrator). His youth and the lack of  firm boundaries and limitations have left him thinking in an “eternal present.”  In Sleep of Memory, a book written at about the same time as Invisible Ink, he attests to the fact that he is trying to impose some order on his memories, each of which is “a piece of the puzzle, but many are missing,” and that he hopes that he will be able to connect what seem to him to be isolated memories, give them some order, and “form paragraphs and chapters that link together.”

Patrick Modiano, photo by Alexander Mahmoud.

Patrick Modiano, Photo by Alexander Mahmoud.

The result in Invisible Ink, at least for me, is that by the time I finished the whole reading experience I felt as if I had actually lived through the life of the narrator in a way I have never experienced before – feeling his feelings, recognizing his surprises with him, and puzzling with him when some of the events and characters appear with little to no connection or context.  Though some who strongly depend upon a set chronology and organization will find this frustrating, I became so curiously fascinated, actually living the life of the main character, that I read the book twice and spent hours rereading sections to try to see events as they appear in the book. I puzzled over the mysteries as they happened but did not obsess over them, noting the oddities within the mysteries and how they might connect with characters and places that have appeared earlier in the narrator’s life.  If all this sounds like a prelude to a book that is frustratingly disorganized, that is the author’s whole point, I think – and why I spent so much time on it.  I wanted to know more about the narrator’s unusual life, and ultimately, I concluded that this was the most fascinating and unusual book I have ever read.  I felt, as I read, that I was honoring the author’s creative spirit, trying to match the author’s commitment as he “let the writing flow…Don’t break momentum, but rather keep in mind the image of a skier gliding for all eternity down a steep trail like the pen on a blank page.”

Noelle enjoyed La Marine Dance Club, thugh her "husband" never danced.

Noelle enjoyed La Marine Dance Club, though her “husband” never danced. Photo by Luisa Ferreira.

As the novel opens, the main character, Jean Eyben, is twenty years old and he has just received a case file regarding Noelle Lefebvre, a young woman who is missing.  Jean is working for the Hutte Detective Agency, and his “case file” consists of “a single sheet in a sky blue folder that has faded with time…turned almost white.”  A few months later, he has left the agency, but he takes the fact sheet with him as a souvenir and puzzles over the case, off and on, for the rest of his life.  Noelle has not only disappeared, but no one has even been sure of her identity.  Jean learns that she has been married – or not – to someone named Roger, but may be using her maiden name.  He meets some people who have met her, but no one has seen her recently.  She used to go to “La Marine Dance Club, but her “husband” never danced.  When the young detective has the opportunity to visit her apartment, now empty, he discovers a notebook in the drawer of a night stand and takes it.  Later he learns that Noelle has sent a letter from Paris to a friend.  When, soon after, Jean leaves his job at the detective agency, he does so in order to become a writer.

The Hotel Imperial, a landmark in Annecy. was described as hiding the beach.

The Hotel Imperial, a landmark in Annecy. was described as “hiding the beach.”

Ten years pass.  “There are blanks in a life, but also sometimes what they call a refrain,” an observation which echoes the narrator’s curiosity regarding Noelle, even ten years later, at which point he follows some new information.  Some of the earlier settings have reappeared in the narrative.  Characters’ lives have changed, as has that of the narrator.  Then a new time shift, back to two years after the novel first started, gives narrator Jean Eyben another chance to check on people and places, and some new characters are introduced.  The name of one of them, almost irrelevant in this context, becomes important thirty years later.  The narrative continues to shift back and forth taking the narrative forward and filling in some blanks for the characters and for the reader.

The Piazza Esedra in Rome features in walk by the female character in the final section.

The Piazza Esedra in Rome features in a walk by the female character in the final section.

Modiano still has some surprises left in the conclusion.  After thirty years have passed, the point of view changes to that of a female, and the setting changes from southeast France to Rome.  New characters appear, and the denouements of some are discussed.  The new female narrator and Jean Eyben make contact, but who she really is, what her role is and has been, and where the novel will go from here, are not certain.  The reader, by now, has lived through innumerable characters, their contacts with each other, who they have become, and the commitment of Jean Eyben to try to fill in blanks, not just in the case of Noelle Lefebvre, but in his own life.  It is one of Modiano’s skills which also allows him bring in the reader to share these results in new ways.  I found myself loving this book the second time I read it.  The one concession I made for my own need for organization (and the fact that the time and places and characters here change but also often repeat) is that keeping a character list made a big difference for me.  Other readers may have a better recall of unusual foreign names, places, and people than I do and may not need to do this.  It helped me to get inside the mind of the main characters, however, and to the extent that the narrator may have represented the author, too, it helped me to get truly inside his mind, also – not a feeling that I can remember having on very many other occasions.


Post-Nobel Prize books:  SLEEP OF MEMORY (2017), INVISIBLE INK (2019)

Photos:  The author’s photo by Alexander Mahmoud appears on https://www.nobelprize.org

The dance club by Luisa Fereira is from  https://thespaces.com

The Hotel Imperial at Lac D’Annécy may be found here:  https://www.wikidata.org

The Piazza Esedra in Rome appears on  https://www.pinterest.com

REVIEW. PHOTOS. France, Italy, Literary, Psychological study
Written by: Patrick Modiano
Published by: Yale Margellos
Date Published: 10/27/2020
ISBN: 978-0300252583
Available in: Paperback Hardcover


“I was an actress who couldn’t act, a dancer who couldn’t dance, a singer who couldn’t sing.  So I went straight to Hollywood after my sophomore year at college in Kalamazoo.  Still, I wasn’t much of a maverick.  I had grown up on a farm in southern Illinois.  Both my parents couldn’t read a word.…[But] I saw every film that reached our rural town, and I  discovered the world watching William Powell and Myrna Loy eat breakfast in their pajamas.” – Rusty Redburn.

coverRusty Redburn, the narrator who directs the traffic of this exciting and busy book, never expects, when she goes to Hollywood in the early 1940s, that she will end up as a spy for Columbia Pictures.  Columbia’s President Harry Cohn wants to keep tabs on every aspect of the life of “Rita Hayworth” (Margarita Carmen Cansino), his shy and most mistrustful star.  As author Jerome Charyn traces the life of Rita Hayworth, Rusty Redburn, becomes a sympathetic confidante for Rita.  Redburn’s own resentment of the male dominated film business and its demeaning of its female stars allows her access to Rita’s inner feelings.  Gossip magazines and the intrusions of columnists like Luella Parsons and Hedda Hopper into the stars’ private lives have added to the private misery that many stars must endure.  Rita, the child of dancers, grew up knowing how to move and attract attention physically, but she never felt beautiful, and, as she tells Rusty, she regrets “not being smart enough.  I don’t have the gift…of words.”  She begs Rusty to teach her, including Hamlet and War and Peace and Pride and Prejudice, and Rusty agrees to that. 

September 7, 1943, the wedding of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles/

September 7, 1943, the wedding of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

The literary lessons with Rusty soon take a back seat to the growing attraction between Rita and Orson Welles, “the Boy Wonder” of Hollywood.  Soon Rusty realizes that she no longer wants to be a spy for “the Janitor,” Harry Cohn.  Instead she will “feed him a few morsels, but nothing that would hurt Rita and Orson, or reveal her own  true identity.”  She, a gay woman, feels a kind of protectiveness toward Rita, and can understand her sense of isolation.  When Orson Welles, a special envoy for FDR, is invited to the White House and Welles wants Rita to come with him, she demurs.  “What if Mrs. Eleanor asks me about world events?  I can talk abut Alice and Humpty Dumpty, but I can’t say much about Stalin’s mustache,” Rita responds.  He begs her to come, but “the closer it came to leaving for the White House, the more she grew mummified,” he remarks.   Welles is forced to go on alone.  Later, after their “honeymoon” in 1943, when Rita discovers herself pregnant, Welles has Mrs. Roosevelt call Rita on the phone to congratulate her, thinking that will help. He, however, begins to spend more and more of his time in Washington, D.C., while she stays in Hollywood, and though he continues “to woo her from afar,” he spends less and less time with her.

arguably Rta's most

Thought by many to be Rita’s best film.

Rita’s professional life expands, however, with much included about her dancing style and dancing partners, such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in films, but almost no time is spent here in the novel, showing her relationship with her new baby daughter, who disappears from the narrative.  Rita makes six movies in the five years between 1942 and 1946, including Gilda, perhaps her most famous film, and in the course of her career, she also appears with Cary Grant, James Cagney, Glenn Ford, Edward G. Robinson, Victor Mature and a host of other Big Hollywood stars. Her marriage, what was left of it, suffers. Welles continues to treat her like a toy, and in 1947, she and Welles separate and plan to divorce.  She tries to hide the unhappiness she feels with her life by drinking, and she becomes unstable, known for her temper and occasional  “murderous rage.”

May 27, 19409, marriage of Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan

May 27, 19409, marriage of Rita Hayworth and Prince Aly Khan

The marriage, of course, fails, but the divorce takes longer than usual.  In the meantime, Rita meets Prince Aly Khan, the richest man in the world. Aly Khan once served with the French Foreign Legion and participated in the US Seventh Army’s Allied landing in the South of France in 1944, for which he received medals from both France and the US.  Soon “a legend grew around Rita and this playboy from Pakistan.  “He was a sharpshooter, our own Wild Bill.  Never saw anyone who could handle a Colt or a carbine like him. Never met anything like it.”  After a year’s courtship, and the end of Aly’s ongoing relationship with Gene Tierney, Aly and Rita marry in 1949, and she becomes Princess Rita.  Once again, she becomes pregnant – with another daughter, Yasmine.  Again, her marriage fails, though she emerges from the relationship with the firm friendship of Aly Khan’s father, the Aga Khan, who comes across as a remarkably sympathetic figure here. 

Author Jerome Charyn

Author Jerome Charyn

The last forty pages of the book compress the years from Rita’s doomed appearance in the film Pal Joey until the end of her career. Though she has top billing in Pal Joey over Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak, she ends up being recast  “as the “other woman,” with Kim Novak in the starring role.  Rita is insulted and outraged. On the set, she forgets her lines a moment after she receives them, sometimes stuttering and losing track of the action.  Though she is still in her thirties, the feeling in Hollywood is that her career is just about over.  She disappears from much of the action at the end of the book, and Welles, Aly, and Hollywood itself become the focus.  In an Author’s Note, Jerome Charyn describes his own problems with the focus.  He had originally planned to write a book about Orson Welles, with an emphasis on Citizen Kane.  He discovered, however, that Rita and her role in Welles’s life would be central to the book.  Realizing that he could not write in her voice, he creates Rusty Redburn, a fictional character, to straddle the various aspects of the novel as an active participant in the lives of Rita, Welles, and the other characters.  As Charyn says, “I did not want to document [Rita’s] decline in Big Red, though we do glimpse her in a bedraggled state.  Instead, I tried to reveal the music in her bones…Rita was always dancing, even when she stood still.”  

Photos.  The wedding picture of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles may be found here:  https://www.pinterest.com

The poster from Gilda, thought by many to be her best film is from https://www.ebay.com

Rita’s 1949 marriage to Prince Aly Khan lasted, officially, for four years.  They were separated for much of that time.  https://en.wikipedia.org

Author Jerome Charyn has published over fifty works in fifty years:  https://www.goodreads.com

BIG RED: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Biography, Film connection, Historical, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues, United States, Hollywood
Written by: Jerome Charyn
Published by: Liveright (W. W. Norton)
Date Published: 08/23/2022
ISBN: 9781324091332
Available in: Hardcover

Kwon Yeo-sun–LEMON

“This life is full of misery, as the lyrics say.  Then I start wondering if this miserable life has any meaning.  I don’t mean life in an abstract or general sense, but the life of an actual person.  Did the pages of [Han Manu’s] life hold any meaning?  Probably not.  At least that’s what I believe.  Life has no special meaning.  Not [Han Manu’s], not [my sister’s], not even mine…what’s not there isn’t there.  Life begins without reason and ends without reason.” – Kim Da-on.

31v+tddGqLLIn one of the most unusual international novels to be released this year, Korean author Kwon Yeo-sun, reports a murder, its possible motives, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding this death.  The facts of the death are far less important to the author and, ultimately, the reader, however, than the inner lives of the main characters themselves, and how and why they view as they do the death of a beautiful girl in her late teens.  Three characters narrate the story of Kim Hae-on, the innocent school-age victim of a bloody murder sixteen years ago, a crime that has never brought resolution to the main characters in terms of the facts and a necessary conclusion.  As a result, this is the story of a murder, but it is not a “murder mystery” in that it does not represent that thriller genre. Instead, it examines episodes from the lives of the main characters over the sixteen years since Hae-on’s death, leaving the reader to draw conclusions.

Kwon Yeo Sun. Photo by Jung Yoojin.

Kwon Yeo Sun. Photo by Jung Yoojin.

Opening the novel is Kim Da-on, the younger sister of the victim, Kim Hae-on.  Da-on provides the background, describing the main characters, and suggesting what might have happened all those years ago.  She is concerned, however, that her sister’s “dazzling beauty” may have affected the detective’s – and everyone else’s –  interpretation of events, a “kind of excess [that] keeps slipping into that imagined scene.” To tell the story and try to come to some much-needed resolution, especially after sixteen years, Da-on explains that what she is doing in that first chapter is “projecting my own thoughts and desires onto the detective,” creating imagined scenes of what might have happened in order to be “free from this crime until the day I die.”  At present, she admits, “I’m not free, not one iota, from those smooth, fair, irrelevant details from sixteen years ago, those endless memories of my sister’s loveliness, which made me undergo plastic surgery, turning my own face into a crude patchwork of her features.”

Lemon Platt

Lemon Platt

The second chapter is told by Sanghui, a classmate of Hae-on, the murder victim.  Many years later,  Shanghui sees and thinks she may recognize Da-on, though much of Da-on’s appearance is unfamiliar because of the surgery. Sanghui even comments that “I’d never seen a mishmash of such bizarre effects on a young woman’s face, to the extent that her face itself seemed a riddle…both familiar and unfamiliar.”  Describing the way her classmates reacted to her and to the two sisters back in the time when they were still young students, Sanghui creates an image of Da-on, her love for the writing of James Joyce, her laughter, her myriad of expressions, and her enthusiasm for life.  When her sister Hae-on’s body, wearing a yellow dress, is discovered, only two possible suspects are identified.  One is cleared of suspicion, and the other, Han Manu, who has no strong alibi, is beaten but then released.  He never returns to school.  Sanghui continues her story, discussing Da-on’s plastic surgery with her, realizing that though that it makes Da-on look more like her sister, “Something is off.” Da-on has lost the bright enthusiasm that she was once so famous for.  Sanghui, too, has lost something as she has aged and no longer writes poetry, though she still remembers the opening lines of her sad poem, “Betty Byrne, Maker of Lemon Platt,” a yellow candy which she recalls burning.  

Yellow Freesia

Yellow Freesia

Time shifts back and forth throughout this novel.  Immediately after this belated meeting with Sanghui, Da-on brings the reader up to date on how the death has affected her family life, with name changes paralleling the dramatic changes in the lives of the family, especially Da-on and her mother.  Da-on has had a child, a daughter given one of many names that had belonged to her sister, but she still feels constantly watched, has hallucinations, and imagines her sister sitting on a park bench “as lovely as yellow freesia.”  Eventually, Da-on wants to see Han Manu, long thought by many to be her sister’s killer, and when she does, she takes a bag of canary melons with her as a gift. When she does that, she feels a door opening and radiant light flooding in, beginning “the revenge of the yellow angel.”

Canary melons, which Da-on tkes with her when he visits Han Manu

Canary melons, which Da-on takes with her when he visits Han Manu

Taerim, a classmate of Hae-on, is the third speaker, a poet whose narrative shows her extreme sensitivity, her jealousy of Hae-on, and her admitted need for psychological and religious counseling.  It is one of Taerim’s sessions with a doctor which becomes a final point of view of the novel.  

The novel remains “closed” in its factual narrative throughout, in that it does not provide new action to bring about the conclusion. Instead, the author continuously provides changes of scenes, shifts of time over the course of sixteen years, and changes of attitudes among characters as they begin to form conclusions about each other. Characters do not always react the same way to the same situations, especially as time passes, so there is no real certainty regarding the outcome.  The reader becomes a witness and even a participant, not only in the crime but in the changing circumstances and the changing lives of the characters.  Eventually, most readers will form a strong picture of who killed Hae-on, but there is no magic moment when the whole book suddenly resolves itself.  The death of Hae-on forces the reader to examine issues, often cultural issues – issues of wealth and privilege, guilt and innocence/ignorance, and how we cope with tragedy, both self-inflicted and inflicted

Photos.  The author’s photo, by Jung Yoojim, appears on https://library.ltikorea.or.kr  james joyce

Lemon Platt candy is mentioned in a poem by James Joyce, and in one by Sanghui. http://ulyssespages.blogspot.com

Da-on imagines her sister Hae-on quietly sitting on a park bench surrounded by freesias just before her death.  https://blog.nurserylive.com

Daon takes canary melons to give to Han Manu’s family when she visits many years after the death of her sister.  https://en.wikipedia.org

James Joyce was a popular poet among the college students in Korea during the time that Da-on was there.  https://www.themoviedb.org

“More than almost any other animal we know of, lumpsuckers are attentive to their own population size.  They come together and make group decisions based on it.  And they’re the most intelligent fish on the planet.  I believe they could be taught to grasp what was happening to them.  And they could be witnesses to their own extinction.” – Resaint, talking to Halyard.

cover venomous lumpsuckerI confess that the minute I saw the bizarre title of this book, I was hooked and ready to read it.  I was familiar with The Teleportation Accident, one of British author Ned Beauman’s earlier novels, which I reviewed in 2013, and I was interested to see how he had developed as an author since then.  The Teleportation novel takes place in Germany in 1931-1939, and, not surprisingly, ricochets around wildly in time and place as pre-World War Two political events occur.  Beauman’s amazing descriptive talents and unfettered imagination make that book truly unique, though it requires a good deal of patience, at least for readers like me, significantly older than the thirty-seven year-old author and more apt to “run out of breath” trying to follow the non-stop story lines.  Venomous Lumpsucker is as imaginative and offbeat as The Teleportation Accident, but it is far more complex structurally, taking place a few decades from now in a time in which the world has truly changed.  The disasters we all fear in our worst nightmares have already begun in Venomous Lumpsucker, and climate change is just one of the problems.  Thousands of life forms have become extinct, and in order to live and work, society has needed new economies, complete with “extinction credits,” which have evolved into free-for-alls overseen by corporations.  Countries have changed or canceled borders.  In what used to be Europe, scientists have set up new economies on floating islands, with free market research centers and biobanks to preserve life, both human and animal, even when that life exists only on the cellular level, and both main characters here are involved in animal research and the international effects of their discoveries. 

Ned Beauman. Photo by Alice Neale

Ned Beauman. Photo by Alice Neale

With an overlay of dark humor and irony throughout, author Ned Beauman presents two young people involved in animal research and the international effects of their discoveries.  Karin Resaint, a Swiss woman, working independently for the Brahmasamudrum Mining Company, is trying to determine the intelligence of a fish called the Venomous Lumpsucker.  If, as the company hopes, it is deemed unintelligent, they will be able to let it go extinct and use their “extinction credits” to promote future projects.  Resaint, however, has discovered that this fish exceeds the threshold of “intelligence,” and she plans to recertify it as intelligent under the terms of the World Commission on Species Extinction.  Everyone agrees that “to lose an intelligent species was the gravest loss of all…[but] such extinctions could not be prohibited outright – that would not be a noble free market solution.”  It is the “extinction credits,” which companies earn from the World Commission on Species Extinction, which make it possible for new species and new life to be developed.

Grosser_Panda 2

Giant panda, photo by J. Patrick Fischer

Mark Halyard, the other main character, is a thirty-eight-year-old Australian who has become the Environmental Impact Coordinator for Northern Europe.  One evening on his way to a conference outside Copenhagen, his taxi is almost hit by a meteorite/tumor made of germ cells from an unknown and unlicensed lab using DNA bootlegged from Chiu Chiu, the world’s last giant panda.  The tumor “had been launched from a catapult as a protest against what Halyard did for a living,” targeting “his” extinction industry and specifically the extinction credits and the financial crisis they have created.  Nobody really seems to care about the various extinct animals individually.  Once the data is in a database, it’s “just going to sit there forever, like some moldy old library book that nobody will ever read.”  

Cyclopterus lumpus, a (real) lumpfish in the same family as venomous lumpfish.

Cyclopterus lumpus, a (real) lumpfish in the same family as Beauman’s venomous lumpfish.

Despite his fancy title, Halyard is not working independently, working instead for the giant Brahmasamudram Mining Company, hoping to certify that the venomous lumpsucker is not intelligent – the opposite of Resaint’s research – and, is therefore, eligible to go extinct and gain extinction credits for the company.  When six major biobanks, which hold the genetic information and samples for all extinct species in the world, are attacked and destroyed, however, the controls and research on past extinctions have been cancelled by fate. The future of the world will now depend on using extinction credits for new development, independent of the past.  Extinction credit prices soar.  Unfortunately for Halyard, who has gambled secretly on the price of extinction credits owned by Brahmasamudram before the biobank attacks, he now owes the company a huge sum which he has no way of repaying.  He can only hope to avoid being caught.

Blackfooted otter/ferret, the rarest mammal in North America.

Blackfooted otter/ferret, said to be the rarest mammal in North America.

When Resaint and Halyard decide to go to Sanctuary North, near Estonia, the story becomes more complex.  At this point, the World Commission on Species Extinction has decided to offer extinction credits for every endangered species that is saved, not allowed to die out, and Resaint and Halyard are interested in seeing how this works.   They are greeted at the gates by a guide wearing a fuzzy costume resembling a large otter or ferret and insisting that both Resent and Halyard also wear the costume.  This man is trying to save the black-footed otter, the world’s most endangered species, and he does not want to confuse his otter pups by exposing them to other species.  Resaint and Halyard also learn is that if a saved species later goes extinct, then whoever got the extinction credits for saving it, must give back the credits, so the urge to save the otters also has a financial side, too.  Soon they discover that most of what they see in Sanctuary North is a sham.  Further travel leads to further horror shows.

An earlier work by Beauman, which won the Somerset Maugham Award, 2013.

An earlier work by Beauman, which won the Somerset Maugham Award, 2013.

The novel is complicated, with wild changes of focus, trips into totally uncharted territory, and characters who, at times, do not even feel human.  There is no love story or a sense of real caring for others, and the novel sometimes feels disorganized, though Beauman is clever, and his ability to soften some of the miserable eventualities with humor keeps the reader going.  For some, that humor may not be enough; for others it will highlight the absurdities the characters face.   Author Beauman focuses his microscope on the future and the evidence that climate change, often ignored or promoted by humans with financial motives, is a sadly real and ultimately terrifying prospect. His overall mood is one of sadness  presented with such realism that the story line requires two epilogues to resolve.

Photos.  The author’s photo is from https://www.nedbeauman.co.uk   Photo by Alice Neale.

The Giant Panda appears on https://commons.wikimedia.org   Photo by J. Patrick Fischer.

Cyclopterus lumpus, a common variety, may be found on alamy.com

The Black-Footed Otter is from https://www.pinterest.com

A review of The Teleportation Accident may be found here:  http://marywhipplereviews.com


REVIEW. PHOTOS. Experimental, Exploration, Humor, Satire, Absurdity, Imagined Time, Literary, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Ned Beauman
Published by: Soho Press
Date Published: 07/12/2022
ISBN: ‎ 978-1641294126
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

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