Book Review: The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson (translated by Julie Rose)

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00074]The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson paints a vivid picture of a world in the grips of a global warming catastrophe, including Arctic ice caps breaking up and falling into the ocean, and a tidal wave hitting the East Coast of the United States.  Throw in some international corporate espionage, a sinking research ship, and what you have is a well-paced spy thriller.

Lovers and business partners John Spencer Larivière and Victoire Augagneur own Fermatown, a strategic consulting company.  Fermatown is hired for a freelance assignment protecting the daughter of the head of North Land, an oil and gas company.  What at first appears to be an easy, well-paying assignment turns out to be anything but easy.  John, Victoire, and Luc, Fermatown’s computer specialist, find themselves in the midst of an international conspiracy, and in great danger.

What I liked most about this book was the description of the physical changes to Greenland as the book progressed.  Greenland was quite literally breaking apart and falling into the ocean.  Regardless of one’s views on global warming, Besson’s description of one possible scenario, Greenland coming apart at an ever-increasing rate and the subsequent impact on other parts of the planet, was both thought-provoking and frightening.

I also liked the pace of the novel.  The story was told from multiple character viewpoints, with ever-changing settings, both of which kept the story moving along.  While the story did not move at a breakneck pace until the very end, there was sufficient action and intrigue throughout the novel to keep me interested and engaged.

The one thing that I found lacking in this book was character development.  John, the book’s main protagonist, could have been taken from just about any spy book.  He was troubled and conflicted, and had a hard time trusting others.  Victoire, John’s lover and business partner, showed concern for John, but beyond that, she had a very mechanical persona.

The character that Beeson best developed and that I found most interesting was the cuckolded captain of the Bouc-Bel-Air, Loïc Le Guévenec.  A decent man, he spends his time worrying about his crippled ship, the safety of his men, the company he works for, and his unfaithful wife.

Bottom line: The Greenland Breach is an exciting, well-written spy thriller.  Though it lacks character development, the story will keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Reviewer’s note: This novel, newly translated into English, was provided to me by the publisher for an honest review.

*****

Book Review: A Widow For One Year by John Irving

downloadA Widow For One Year, John Irving’s ninth novel, is a poignant tale of love lost and found, grief, abandonment, and forgiveness.

Divided into three parts, the book begins in 1958 with Eddie O’Hare, a sixteen year-old student at Phillips Exeter Academy, taking a summer job as a writer’s assistant to Ted Cole, a philandering husband and somewhat successful author of children’s books.  As it turns out Ted and Marion Cole’s marriage is failing.  Marion still grieves the loss of their two sons in a car accident four years previous.  Both boys were students at Phillips Exeter Academy.

Ted and Marion have a four year-old daughter named Ruth.  Unable to get beyond the deaths of her sons, Marion has covered the walls of their house with pictures of them.  She shows little affection to Ruth.  The hiring of Eddie O’Hare by Ted Cole is a deliberate attempt to drive Marion to infidelity, which Ted hopes will strengthen his case for gaining custody of Ruth when the couple divorces.  Eddie O’Hare looks a lot like the couple’s dead sons.  Eddie and Marion have an affair that lasts the summer.  At the end of the summer, Marion disappears, taking with her most of the pictures of her dead sons, and leaving Ruth with her father.

Fast-forward to 1990.  Ruth Cole is a successful, 36 year-old novelist.  While in Europe researching prostitution for a novel, Ruth witnesses the murder of a prostitute at the hands of one of her customers.  Ruth anonymously provides police with enough details about the killer that they are eventually able to arrest him.

Five years later, the detective who solved the prostitute’s murder realizes that Ruth Cole is the anonymous witness whose information helped solve the case because of details presented in one of her novels.  While in Europe promoting her latest novel, Ruth meets the detective, and they soon fall in love, eventually returning to Ruth’s home in Vermont to marry.  At the end of the book, Eddie O’Hare and Ruth reunite with Marion Cole, who has been living in Canada and writing detective novels.

John Irving’s inimitable writing style is what keeps me going back to read him.  His descriptions people and relationships are as honest as I have ever read.  His descriptions of sexual encounters, though not clinical, are straightforward and matter-of-fact, giving little, if any, attention to the emotions which are a part of the encounters.  I much prefer this approach to the breathless, sweaty, passionate encounters some authors tend toward.  Frankly, I don’t need a thrust-by-thrust description of lovemaking.

The thing I didn’t like about this novel was the jump from 1958 to the 1990s.  I would like to have seen a little more about Ruth’s development, both as a woman and as a writer.  The brief flashbacks we get simply aren’t enough.  I would also like to have seen something about the healing process which Marion undergoes.  How does she process her grief between the summer of 1958 and 1995, when we get to see her again?  As a reader, I felt a little cheated.

Having said those things, I still found the novel enjoyable, though it is, as yet, my least favorite of Irving’s works.

*****

Album Review: Vapor Trails Remixed by Rush

25510Vapor Trails, the seventeenth album by Canadian prog-rockers Rush, was released in May 2002, nearly six years after the band’s previous studio album, Test For Echo.  A welcome sight for Rush fans, Vapor Trails  signaled the band’s return to recording and touring following a long period of uncertainty about the band’s future.  A little over a month after the band finished its Test for Echo tour in 1997, drummer Neil Peart’s 19 year-old daughter was killed in a car accident.  Ten months later, in August 1998, Neil’s common law wife of 22 years died of cancer.  Peart went into a self-imposed exile until 2000.

I remember the day that I bought Vapor Trails.  It was a great day, because I had tangible proof that my favorite rock band wasn’t done yet.  I also remember being a more than bit disappointed by the album.  It wasn’t the quality of the songs that disappointed me; it was the way the album sounded – very dense and distorted.  It was missing the intricacy, depth, and complexity that I had become accustomed to.  Because of the poor sound quality, Vapor Trails was among my least-played Rush albums, along with Roll The Bones and Presto.

When Retrospective III was released in 2009, it contained two songs from Vapor Trails: “One Little Victory” and “Earthshine,” both of which were remixed for the compilation.  When I listened to these two songs, I was blown away.  Both remixed versions sounded much better than the originals.  This got me thinking how great it would be if the entire album was remixed.  Finally, four years later, Rush fans get Vapor Trails Remixed.

The first time I listened to Vapor Trails RemixedI was afraid that I would be disappointed, that the album wouldn’t live up to its billing.  Boy was I wrong.  The sound quality of Vapor Trails Remixed is vastly improved.  Gone is the muddy, distorted bottom end, which rendered the original album almost unlistenable.  It has been replaced with a crisp, clean-sounding album full of really good songs – songs with lots of layers and depth, songs worthy of being on a Rush album.  The remix brought out musical nuances unheard on the previous version.

Alex Lifeson’s guitar work benefited the most from the remix.  His guitar shines through, sometimes clean and bright, sometimes crunchy and dirty.  On the original album, the guitar was buried under a thick layer of distorted bass.  And speaking of bass, Geddy Lee’s bass guitar work is second to none.  His use of bass chords and right-handed finger strumming really adds thickness to the songs.  Neil Peart’s drumming is powerful and clean, brought to the forefront in the remix.

Bottom line: Amazon currently has Vapor Trails Remixed for $9.00.  That’s a small price to pay for great music that was liberated from the morass of a bad mix.  Listeners familiar with the original album will be pleased with this “new” Rush album.

*****