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The Flanders Panel Kindle Edition
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“Paradoxes and puzzles abound.A sleek, sophisticated, madly clever chamber mystery about chess, life, and art.”—THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
- File Size : 7052 KB
- Publication Date : June 7, 2004
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 306 pages
- Publisher : Mariner Books (June 7, 2004)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B003SNKBUK
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #152,920 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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After finishing The Club Dumas by Reverte, I was looking forward to reading more of his works. Reverte's brand of historical-fiction mixed in with eloquent language and symbolism really made an impression on me and it was with great enthusiasm that I set about reading The Flanders Panel. Hoping to find the same level of mystery, intrigue, symbolism and philosophy. And while I did discover all of these elements, I found that the story, or to be more precise, the mystery within the story was rather inaccessible due to my lack of knowledge of the game of chess.
Now granted, a game to which one is oblivious can definitely form the central theme of an entertaining story but in the case of The Flanders Panel, the level of emphasis given to the game of chess and not just the game, but also each move and what it represents as both a move in the game and a move in philosophical terms is often a large jumble of words and ideas and abstractions that make you want to either read the page again or just skip ahead to the point where the characters talk to each other and push the plot forward.
Even with all its drawbacks however, the book is a treat to read from time to time. The descriptions of the paintings, the sheer amount of knowledge being imparted with regards to the topics of chess, art, music, culture, it makes one feel that The Flanders Panel is a book which will readily lend itself to a Film/TV adaptation (1994 adaptation notwithstanding).
Another positive of the book is its summing up at the end. Well, it would be fair to say that the end had some positive aspects to it. The final revelation of the figure in the shadows and their motivation is at once both congruous and incongruous with what we know. The biggest flaw (as I can see) is the complete atrophy of the main character, Julia, as the plot progresses. While she's certainly a driving force behind events at the beginning, she soon becomes someone to whom things are simply happening and she's reduced to being a silent, and almost helpless witness with occasional bursts of initiative. This I think was a great disservice to a character by a story that holds a strong-willed woman in its central theme.
In the end, where this book falls short is with its penchant for leaving a reader who isn't well-versed in chess floating through a sea of eloquent words and picturesque descriptions. There were moments of genuine entertainment but they were fleeting, and in the end I held onto just enough fascination with Reverte's works to pick up a third book, which I hope will be the beginning of an upward sloping curve of enjoyment.
This one starts out with a rather intriguing premise, an art restorer finds a hidden inscription concealed under a layer of paint on a late medieval painting she has been commissioned to spruce up. "Who killed the knight?" the inscription reads in Latin.
The painting, of two men playing a game of chess with an enigmatic young woman, dressed in black sitting demurely if mysteriously in the background, shows the older man with a chess piece in his hand (the white knight) and the younger player brooding over the board. As Julia, the art restorer, muses, the term "killed" in the inscription could also be read as "took," as in "who took the knight?" in the course of the game. But a little investigation soon reveals to Julia that one of the players had actually been assassinated before the painting was painted and the game is soon afoot.
As Julia scrambles to understand the implications of the inscription, in hopes that its story will enhance the value of the painting for the art broker who commissioned her, bloody murder suddenly rears its head and soon Julia is drawn into a vortex of fear and suspicion as she and some friends (one old, one new) scramble to unpack the mystery of the centuries old murder which, Julia is convinced, will reveal the perpetrator of the contemporary murder.
To do so it's not only necessary for Julia and her companions to research the history of the painting, they must find a way to play out the chess game depicted on the painted panel from Flanders itself for, as they soon realize, the murderer knows their every move and is playing along with them -- and the murders (for the first one is not the last) may be finally explicable in the way the game is played out.
The first half of the book is fairly tight though, as others have noted here, the characters are not well developed and, in fact, are fairly stereotypical, though Perez-Reverte does manage to give them vitality if not genuine depth. Julia, herself, seems oddly passive and naive for someone as worldly as she is supposed to be.
But the greatest flaw of this book lies in the mystery. Aside from the strain to credulity it takes to think a centuries old mystery, with no obvious connections to the modern characters in the story, has implications for the current murder and mayhem, it is even stranger to suggest that a game of chess, played out in the abstract, has a bearing on what is going on among people with little or no reason to know what moves are being made.
The idea, of course, is that the killer is using the game (first played backward and then forward) to tell those who are trying to decipher the point of the inscription just who will be killed next. But why? There ought to be a very strong reason for this, or why should the killer go to such lengths?
The great weakness of the book lies precisely in this conundrum for there seems to be no rhyme or reason for the killings themselves, no intrinsic connection to the painting and thus it becomes apparent way too soon just who the killer must be. I shall say no more of this for fear of giving the story away except to note that by the first third of the book the killer's identity becomes fairly obvious and it is a wonder those who are most engaged in the "chase" apparently fail to see it until much later. Moreover, the killer's motivation, when finally revealed, seems rather odd, to say the least -- not inexplicable but an awful lot of trouble to go to in order to accomplish what, in the end, is a more or less prosaic goal.
Perez-Reverte, in my view, has done much better elsewhere (The Fencing Master is my favorite). While this one kept me reading diligently for about the first half, I only managed to finish it out of a sense of literary duty. By the time of the denouement, my only question was how the author would manage to explain it all and, alas, I think he didn't quite do so. He ended with an artfully philosophical flourish but I didn't have the feeling I'd been through any kind of adventure at all and the chess game, which had fascinated me for much of the story, seemed a tiresome device on which to hang the murders by the end. It was hard to care much about those killed or those in danger or those engaged in the ferreting out of the mysterious killer.
Still, Perez-Reverte always exhibits a certain intellectual elegance and erudition when he writes and is enjoyable for that. This was better than The Nautical Chart and, certainly, superior to his third Alatriste novel. I'll probably continue to read him but I do find myself wondering at his popularity in Europe and in some quarters in the U.S. after reading this one. I have to wonder, too, if the appearance of erudition is not often as important to some as the real thing.
author of The King of Vinland's Saga
Top reviews from other countries
Back to The Flanders Panel: the setting in artsy circles in Madrid has an unintentionally nostalgic charm: every time people would meet, be it for a philosphical discourse about chess, a deadly conspiracy or action in bed, the leftover would invariably be 'overflowing ashtrays'. Ah, those were the days....
Many people have criticised the convoluted plot, weak characters and the unlikeliness of the setting, but they miss the point with books such as these. They were written to entertain, not to be tomes of classical literature to be read centuries later.
In this respect, the Flanders Panel does an admirable job of entertaining and teaching. (less)