First of all, when I purchased this book, I pretty much guessed it would be quite far from the movie whose title it borrowed. The original title is ‘A Very Private Gentleman’, and the movie is ‘The American’, featuring George. (Clooney, that is). So the book was re-released alongside the movie, even though there is no American in sight in the original story. Go figure.
Reading reviews of the movie itself, there seems to have been an ill-thought idea to package it as an action-thriller, a Jason Bourne type of story, which could not be any further from both the book… and indeed the movie! In other words, the movie’s marketing does not reflect its content, and neither does the book.
Not a good start. Or maybe it is. Because I haven’t been disappointed at all by the novel.
The book is a single-chapter, 400-page story about a man whose trade is in sophisticated gunsmithing, and who is about to undertake what he’d like to be his last assignment while staying covert in a small Italian village. Once there, he discovers that the village would not be a bad place to settle down for the long term. Every other place he’s been to before only reinforced his conviction that he would not stay.
I know Italy a bit and enjoy its country life. Author Martin Booth’s story is fresh, original and slow, as slow as life itself, when it trickles down in such a small Abbruzio village. The pace of the story translates perfectly the pace of daily Italian country life. Here and then you can find some precious moments, such as the main character and the priest sharing wine, cheese and charcuterie in a garden under an umbrella… As precious as when I actually lived such moments myself. I could totally relate.
Booth bothers (and relishes doing so) with all the right names of cheeses, wines and sausages, as well as detailed descriptions of those little snapshots of Italian quotidien; espresso and a glass of water by the terrace, the slow development of an acquaintance and then a friendship between Seniore Farfalla and the locals… including a local beauty, of course.
It’s delicious just reading about it.
The only downside to this novel is that it is 400 pages, a non-stop, one-chapter book. It matches the rhythm of the story, the rhythm of local life, but it’s a real pain to have to stop reading. The best sign there is on the quality of prose.
Reviewed by Jack Linden
A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth is available in various formats: if you want a new copy it’ll be called The American
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