Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A book, A week # 4 "False Impression - Jeffery Archer"

The original Van Gogh selfportrait with bandaged ear!
             False Impression is a book about a rich and powerful man who profits through deception, which gives it fascination from a psychological if not a literary standpoint. Again, though, the story is open to the opposite interpretation: that it is a parable of the world taking away from Archer what is rightly his. In terms of the plot, literally so: False Impression involves an international conspiracy to nick a Van Gogh self-portrait with a bandaged ear!
            The conceit of False Impression is to stage a chase story during the only days in living memory when the main form of transport in modern intercontinental adventure stories - the plane - is unavailable to the characters. The use of jets as weapons against the World Trade Center led to the closure of American airspace at the very time that a picture thief called Bryce Fenston is about to fly to New York with the Van Gogh he has murderously stolen in London. This is undoubtedly a clever idea, and the need for the central characters - art expert Anna Petrescu, a former employee of Fenston's, and Jack Delaney, an FBI agent - to find different ways of leaving and entering the States while the painting remains stranded in London gives a freshness to what would otherwise be a standard robbery plot.
           The difficulty is that Archer also asks 9/11 to serve another narrative purpose. Anna, working in one of the towers, is able to fake her own death. Archer has had problems with taste before, when he employed Senator Edward Kennedy as the object of an assassination plot in "Shall We Tell the President?", bringing understandable objections from a family that had seen two sons shot.
           Using Bin Laden's mass murders as a plot device raises an even greater queasiness, especially as the dramatisation of the events is limited to perfunctory descriptions of people jumping off roofs or becoming engulfed in smoke. Archer's writing has often seemed prone to a brisk heartlessness, and never more so than here. Anna, thinking of friends who work in the buildings, reflects: "It's only when you know someone that a tragedy becomes more than a news item."
           As well as charmlessness, Archer's other weaknesses as a novelist are also present. Possibly the most contrived clue in all crime fiction is that Anna has carefully unstitched the letter P from her jogging shirt to disguise the fact that she attended Pennsylvania University. Unfortunately, the outline of the give-away initial remains. Is it churlish to wonder why she didn't just buy another running shirt? :-P Archer also continues to have a Van Gogh's ear for speech. 
          The sadness of Archer's writing career is that a taut and absorbing crime story - Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less - was followed largely by bloated family yarns. False Impression is closer to his beginnings, and the smart plotting of the heist suggests that the novelist may have picked up useful data from cell-block colleagues. Unfortunately, he seems not to have signed up for remedial English.
Image courtesy :
False impression by Jeffery Archer :
The original van gogh painting :


Anonymous said...

you have got good writing skills.Dont waste it

Shalini Gowrisankar said...

I was just about to start a weekly posting in my blog called a book a week :)

ABI said...

@Anonymous: Whoever you are, thank you very very much and you made my day :-P

ABI said...

@shals: really?? like minds think alike ;)