From Publishers Weekly
Leading a life of letters and leisure in Paris in the late 1960s and early '70s, Mathews (Cigarettes
; The Human Country
; etc.) wanted to "play a part in the grand conspiracy of poetic subversion," but people mistook him for "an ordinary, paid conspirator." Idle rumors grew a life of their own for this American ex-pat writer: people thought he was CIA, and when his denials fell on deaf ears, he decided to embrace the role, a story he embellishes in this staccato autobiographical novel peppered with literary, artistic and political references. Playing spy "seemed more promising than moping at home in front of my mirror wondering how fast I was losing my hair," the 41-year-old Mathews muses as he faces middle age in 1973. So he invents a fake travel agency for cover and bones up on the language of the spy trade with the help of his friend Patrick, who does corporate intelligence work. Mathews's shaggy dog tale turns risky when agents begin approaching him for real intelligence, "Patrick" turns out to be a false identity and Mathews goes on the run. Real people—his former and current wife, his agent—share page space with possibly fictitious events—a lecture Mathews gives to dyslexic travelers with departure anxiety—in this lively bit of novelistic truth telling and biographical embellishment.
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In this Walter Mitty-toned novella, a factual autobiographical substrate blends into fiction, but who can tell where? Suffice it to say that novelist Mathews, an American living in Paris circa 1973, can't convince his French artistic friends he is not a CIA agent, so he resolves to fake the part--it beats soaking up idle time by learning ancient Greek, he thinks. Knowing a spy needs cover, Mathews sets up as "international travel counsel," and the audience attending his seminar yields several recruiting prospects. "Patrick," also in the consultancy "business," develops into Mathews' boon companion to whom he confides his charade. A second prospect from that seminar (a Russian) becomes the plot's vehicle for eliding Mathews from a world of fantasy espionage into something more real, and menacing. Strangers contact him; he accepts a courier mission; Patrick vanishes; the Soviet embassy summons him, as does French counterintelligence, which warns Mathews a Stasi assassin is pursuing him. Evolving in mood from ludicrous to serious, the yarn's inventive literary elements elegantly mesh into a stylish amusement. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved