It really is unfair to market this novel in any way attached to THE DAVINCI CODE, either good or bad. It really has no similairities which is both good and bad. The plot moves forward well enough, and the scholarship regarding Egyptian mysticism, heiroglyphics and the Stela of Paser are well researched--but the protagonist is neither a hero or anti-hero, in fact he is pretty much the most poorly developed character in the book. And the plot resolution is so empty and open ended to make you question where the author was trying to go. Not a bad novel overall, and I see the author can handle both the heady world of acedemia and the depths of seedy sex and drug culture to equal proportion, yet a bit unsatisfying.
Maybe I just don't get out much, but I'm really surprised that writing of such abysmal quality actually gets published. There are the repetitions: page 3 - 'hieratic and demotic scripts, which are essentially the shorthand or cursive form of heiroglyphics', page 14 - 'hieratic and demotic scripts, which are essentially the cursive and everyday form of hieroglyphic writing'. (Do publishing houses still have editors on staff? Do editors actually do any work?) There is incorrect grammar. There is some of the most ridiculous, pointless plotting I've ever encountered (the narrator decides he needs to talk to his friend Alan Henry. Alan Henry is not home. The narrator tries, unsuccessfully, to get the super to let him in to his friend's apartment. Finally he uses a chisel to break in. Then nothing happens, the narrator leaves, because, DUHH, his friend is not home. ???? And why is the friend almost always referred to as Alan Henry, instead of Alan? Very weird.) But the real killer for me is the inexorable awfulness of the prose. How about this? '...ever since then it seemed as if the spirit of Zenobia bore down upon me, a puzzling sensation that shifted from bemused tolerance to possible reconciliation to straight vengeance'? The sensation of the spirit of Zenobia bearing down upon him shifts from tolerance to reconciliation etc.? Well, this would puzzle me too. And this isn't to worst of it ... this is just the point at which I decided I'd had as much bad writing as I could take.
It seems to me that perhaps this would have been a perfectly nice first draft for a novel; I just wish someone had whipped it into at least a marginally readable product before I plopped down $22.95 for it.
on October 6, 2005
Boy there are some thick folks out there that seem flabbergasted by the loony nature of this book and its situations. I have a word for you to look up: Satire. Or here's another: Comedy. Clearly this book is a send-up of certain genre conventions, a literary novel cloaked in the sheep's clothing of absurdity and the surreal. If you really care by page 200 what the "mystery" of the Stela is then you have really missed the boat. The situations and premise are no more ridiculous than those Bondurant is compared to on the jacket: Bellow, Zadie Smith, J. Lethem - and certainly H. Kurieshi is an influence. That's what I was expecting and that's exactly what I got. Loved it.
on August 21, 2005
The Third Translation is not an easy book to like!
Our hero, Walter Rothschild, an Egyptologist at the British Museum, is an ineffectual, pathetic obsessed man, driven only by a passion for his science. Boring and weak, ineffectual as a parent, spouse and lover, indecisive, introverted, fretful and naïve, Walter generates only a vague, disinterested feeling of sympathy in the reader. The plot, on the other hand, at least contains the elements of a story that one might expect should unfold as a thriller! With the help of a powerful cocktail of drugs, alcohol and uninhibited sex, Erin, a beautiful young goth, steals a papyrus from the museum that Walter thinks may contain a vital clue to the translation of the Stela of Paser, a centuries old funerary stone. A rather stumbling investigation leads Walter to the acquaintance of Penelope, a staffer from the British Library, who helps him track the thief into the lair of a modern day Egyptian cult.
Like the earnest, trendy young people who mill about London's arty Soho district where some of Bondurant's tale is based, The Third Translation is much too ardent and takes itself entirely too seriously. Or, at least, that's what I thought at first! But, it was Walter's daughter, Zenobia, indulging in a mouthful of babbling double-speak that made me realize Bondurant was yanking on the chain of London's intelligentsia sub-culture. She spoke of her new business venture, a women's magazine:
"While I was doing my master's at Columbia, she said, I discovered that most women's studies and humanities departments were engaged in a form of hypocritical liberal fascism, victimization, and debilitating group-think strategies that eventually were swamped in a morass of ambiguity and academic jargon that prohibited the real ideas present to make a dent in anything beyond the theoretical models. This magazine is intended to change all that."
By this point in the novel, it was quite clear that Bondurant was far too skilled a writer to have constructed such meaningless drivel by mistake so, I concluded that he had set out to create it on purpose. Do not judge The Third Translation by the standards of what you were expecting to read. Rather allow it to be what it wants to be. Once that "aha" light came on for me, the novel, like the endless crescendo in a Rossini overture, built in beauty and moved from one strength to another.
And what exactly IS The Third Translation? An eloquent, dramatic description of the current understanding of translation of heiroglyphics from a purely scientific point of view; an even more eloquent philosophical statement about heiroglyphics as a reflection of ancient Egyptian culture; an unrelated series of poetic, artistic asides that use certain features of modern cosmological theories of the universe as metaphors for Egyptian writing; a masterful, darkly comic, literary criticism of London life; an emotional, deeply moving description of a few days in Walter's life as he comes to grips with his inadequacies and failings and attempts to establish a renewed relationship of sorts with his estranged daughter; and, finally, a modest mystery that, in large part, remains unsolved at the conclusion of the narrative. This lack of a real conclusion to the story is, paradoxically, still quite satisfying!
Like many other books, enjoyment of The Third Translation does not come with the first page. But, patience and perseverance will be rewarded with a real treasure!
on April 3, 2005
For the opposite reasons that I had to toss "The Da Vinci Code" onto the top of my unread pile of poorly written novels, I was happily entranced and engaged by "The Third Translation." In this novel I found all of the things that were missing with Dan Brown's narrative-Bondurant gives you original and human characters, real world sorrow and confusion that one expects in good literature, unsettling and wonderful plot movements, and the confident craft of tension that is seen more often in the works of Chabon and Irving.
Matt Bondurant is a novelist with a long and brilliant career ahead of him-rarely have I picked up a first novel from a new writer and been so impressed with the characters, tension, and craft of the narrative. Unlike the pulp mysteries that "The Third Translation" is compared to, this novel is filled with brave and original characters who challenge us with their particular obsessive behaviors-there is no comparison between the obtuse brilliance of Bondurant's Walter Rothschild and the "Indiana Jones" mimicry of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon. It is a shame that these two novels are even being compared, and it is a disservice to Bondurant's craft that they are mentioned in the same breath. That said, if one enjoys the pressure and tempo of novels like TDVC, I would recommend they take the next step into the realm of literary suspense that Bondurant represents so splendidly.
Bondurant intersperses complicated Egyptology within the constricts of the novel (a difficult task in itself) as the plot runs us through the London underground, the British Museum, Soho, Covent Garden, etc. His adept handling of this monumental task is tempered with the wonderful humor of the novel, not to mention the great pathos he develops for the main characters (not since Ignacious J. Reilly from "A Confederacy of Dunces," have I fallen in love with such an unloveable character). But more than all of these great qualities, this novel is written with great care and great ability-Bondurant mixes the complicated axioms of the scholarly with the equally poignant world of the mad and fetid London club scene. Often, this transition from the sterility of the British Museum to the urine soaked cobbled streets of Soho reminds me of those transitional moments of cytology and whale lore in "Moby Dick."
Beyond all of this, however, TTT is a fun and uproariously wild ride that will make you ache for the feral madness of London. It is human, absurd, wonderful. It is literary, scholarly, intense, and untamed. If you are like me, you will consume this one in a day, then start over in order to discover what you might have missed on the first read. Don't miss the boat, as some reviewers obviously have--this is a great, poignantly written and crafted, new novel.
on February 28, 2006
I really, really hate giving a bad review to anyone but after spending the cost of a hardcover version of this book, I feel I have earned the right. I anticipated the arrival of this book and expected to be engrossed in an Egyptian quest adventure. Au contraire...I never did totally understand why the third translation was important or what it meant. Way too much time and way too many words were spent on directions and locations within the city of London and elsewhere. Not to mention the time spent on the "hero's" boring background. The primary character was about as boring and lackluster as they come and his relationships basically made no sense. The quest made no sense and engendered no interest whatsoever. I think the author is a capable writer and I am sad to be so negative. But he needs to develop more interesting and gripping style and plot devices. The writing is good and with some pzzzazzz, his books have great promise.
on August 10, 2005
This is a funny, madcap adventure written in a delicate, poetic prose style. The situations are absurd at times, and clearly that is the point. The author seems to want to poke fun at certain genre conventions; you might view this as the "anti-Da Vinci Code" in this respect. I think he is mocking the genre while putting together quite a character study. Dr. Rothschild is a well-developed character, a befuddled man who makes poor decisions. Like a lot of people I know. His affection for his estranged family is real, and there are some real heartfelt moments in this book. But the wrestlers are hilarious, and a bit of very British-style monty python toilet humor. More about the author's twisted love of London than anything else, if you are an anglophile then you will love this fresh take.
The Third Translation is an entertaining story of mystery, translation and travel. It follows Walter, a cryptographer and archeologist through his life of obsession. Starting as a child he has been driven by ruins and finds himself middle aged, with nothing but his work and a translation that he isn't getting very far on. During his trials, he meets a girls that changes his life. He chases his career and life to rescue an ancient text.
This book was sold as a new Da Vinci Code, which it is not. It was a fun story but was missing the pull and detail that The Da Vinci Code had. It is worth reading if you are not set looking for the same type of action/adventure that you got out of Dan Brown's books.
on April 17, 2005
Matt Bondurant's "The Third Translation" is most likely nothing like "The DaVinci Code", and I couldn't be happier.
This novel seems to be primarily a character study of Dr. Walter Rothschild. Sure, there is a fair amount of action, and after the first hundred pages or so, the story picks up the pace. But I found myself glued to the pages not because of what was going on around Rothschild, more for the startlingly unique parallels he draws between his surroundings and his thought process used to work his way deeper into the mysteries of the Stela of Paser. Rothschild is an interesting character, developing more depth through the novel, mirroring the repeated theme of looking at the world in increasingly smaller increments and finding only more confusion, more possibilities.
While reading I felt myself immersed in the dirty, gritty yet charming streets of London. Certainly, having spent a significant amount of time living there allowed the author a palette of real experiences with which to paint the setting for the book. Although some of the descriptions seem cliché, I get the distinct impression that Londoners are like this, much in the way that many stereotypes of Americans ring true.
I can see how a piece like the Stela of Paser might inspire a writer to want to probe its mysteries, similar to the way it tantalizes Dr. Rothschild. It would be difficult to avoid developing an interest in this fascinating, yet overlooked piece of ancient history.
Some reviewers have complained about the resolution of the third translation itself. My advice is that if you were really bothered by how the story is resolved, the story wasn't for you. Move on. I found that Dr. Rothschild ended up discovering a lot more about himself than anything about the Stela. Because he was not a static character, there was resolution, and that was the point.
Let's face it. In the past two years, "The DaVinci Code" has shattered records and become a household name, common lexicon in the popular fiction arena. I'm sure that Dan Brown's novel is a "masterpiece", but I'll never know because I will be at least one person who will never read it. Why, you ask? The answer is simple. Just because a lot of people like a book doesn't mean the book is quality writing. If you belong to the teeming throngs wanting the exact same thing as "The DaVinci Code", do yourself a favor and reread it. Don't buy a book, knowing full well that may be (heaven forbid) a completely different story with different characters, read the first 20 pages, and then pan it with a one star review. If it were that easy to write novels, you'd be doing it.
One thing I can guarantee, "The Third Translation" is an extremely well written first novel. It is not a movie. It does not star Arnold Schwarzenegger. You should enjoy it as such.
on September 6, 2005
This book is at times hilarious and puzzling and kept me wondering what would happen next. Most people in my book club though it was excellent, and it certainly sparked loads of coversation, even argument. One of the better choices we have made in that regard. The egyptology stuff provides an interesting layer of metaphor and symbol, as well as the physics, which went totally over my head. I liked that as that is what good literary novels do. I've never written a review (but read them all the time)before but I decided to for this one because it seems people are crucifying this book for not being the Da Vinci Code. This book is nothing like that. The central character is basically a bastard trying to do the right thing and failing mostly. Like a lot of people we know. It isn't quick and easy and wrapped up neatly at all. The ending poses almost more questions, and I liked that.
Some in my reading group compared it to Delillo and Pynchon. It also resembles Franzen, Chabon, and a lot like Zadie Smith's White Teeth or Kurieshi's (who is in this story I think) The Black Album. If you prefer more literary authors you should find a lot here to interest you.