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Portrait of a Spy (Gabriel Allon) Paperback – February 21, 2012
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Amazon Exclusive: Daniel Silva on Writing Portrait of a Spy with a Pencil
While on book tour, I’ve been surprised to find that readers are fascinated by how writers actually write. Most readers hold in their mind an idealized image of the novelist at work—a figure in a trendy urban coffeehouse, a solitary figure walking along an empty beach. The truth, however, is seldom so romantic.
Before going any further, let us stipulate that, much like the hero of my novels, the art restorer and spy Gabriel Allon, I am something of a creature of habit. I work seven days a week, from early in the morning until six thirty in the evening, when I stop to watch the evening news. My work clothing never varies: gray sweatpants by Russell Athletic, a long-sleeve T-shirt by L.L. Bean, fleece Acorn moccasins, and discount cotton socks from Marks & Spencer in England. Occasionally, visitors to our house will catch a glimpse of this outfit, but, for the most part, my wife and children tend to shield me from public view. As a rule, I don’t answer the telephone—unless it is a family emergency of some sort—and I don’t read e-mail. I nibble rather than eat. Portrait of a Spy, like all the Gabriel Allon novels, was fueled largely by McVitie’s digestive biscuits.
I have a computer, of course, but I really do most of my actual writing in longhand, on yellow legal pads. I prefer to work while lying on the floor rather than at my desk. This annoys my wife because she took a great deal of time and effort to have a desk custom made to fit my office. When I showed her a photograph of Muriel Spark, one of her literary heroes, writing in longhand stretched across a floor, she was only partially mollified. Sometimes we talk about living somewhere other than Georgetown. Secretly, the very idea terrifies me. After writing 14 books in the same room of the same house, I am afraid I have lost the ability to work anywhere else.
As for my writing instrument of choice, it is unquestionably the pencil. There is something about the sound it makes scratching across the page that, for me, is the essence of composition. The pencil is the antithesis of all things cyber and e, a means of returning, however briefly, to a world that is unconnected and unwired. A pad and pencil do not freeze or crash. There are no viruses or error messages. If a thunderstorm knocks out the power, the words will still be there when the lights come on again. And then, there is the satisfying natural rhythm of the work itself—the turning of the completed page, the sharpening of the dulled point, the fortnightly disposal of the fluffy wooden shavings.
Lately, I have been hoarding pencils. I’m not sure precisely when it began; I suspect it had something to do with the death of the typewriter. An irrational fear gripped me, a fear that pencils were next. If the typewriter could go extinct, how could the lowly, environmentally hostile pencil possibly hope to survive in the brave new world? I now order my favorite brand—the Paper Mate Mirado Black Warrior No. 2—by the case. I am reasonably confident I now have enough pencils on hand to see me through the next several novels—though, if I happen to misplace a pencil, I will search the house thoroughly before removing a new one from its special drawer and sharpening it for the first time. To sharpen a virgin pencil is, in a sense, to commit an act of assisted suicide. It saddens me.
I wish it were not so. I wish I could write on a computer while traveling on an airplane or sitting in a strange hotel room, but I cannot. I have become a prisoner of my office. I need my floor, and my Mirado Black Warrior No. 2 pencils, and my McVitie’s digestive biscuits. I hoard them, too. I keep them on a special shelf in the storage room, next to my socks from Marks & Spencer.
Copyright © Daniel Silva 2011. All Rights Reserved.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Daniel Silva is deeply concerned with the Middle East and the problems with radical Islamism that have risen from there in the last 60 years or so. Silva uses his books - characters and plots - to speak intelligently about those problems and the repercussions - terrorist bombings in both the Middle East countries and in Europe. Silva seems to publish a new book in the series every July. Now, this year and this book, 2011 and "Portrait of a Spy", pose a fairly tricky problem for Daniel Silva. How much of the "Arab Spring" - which actually began in mid-December, 2010 - does he include in his story? And does he include the assassination of Bin Ladin, which occurred fairly close to the time of publication? I could tell that he makes reference to Bin Ladin's death in a line towards the end where the text could still be changed in final proofs. The "Arab Spring" is mentioned towards the end. That's the problem he may have faced with the plot. But it's with the characters he's really facing problems.
Gabriel Allon has not changed much in the 15 or so years he's been the subject of Daniel Silva's pen. And Chiara, his younger Italian wife is still gorgeous. They are still trying to retire to the English countryside and really go back to art restoration.Read more ›
Typical in all books in this series, Allon and his team (involving most of the cast of characters that have appeared in previous books in the series) devise an intricate plan laden with risk to thwart the terrorist and his network from carrying out more devasting attacks across the globe. Also reminiscent of most books in this series, the plot in Silva's Portrait Of A Spy combines the worlds of art and intelligence in a way that seems that the stories are ripped from yesterday's newspaper headlines. And, of course, consistent in a Silva thriller, his latest book is one of slow-building but non-stop tension and suspense that will likely make the reader anxious to turn the pages to find out what happens next.
In the absolute, I enjoyed Portrait Of A Spy very much and consider it, as I have all of the other books featuring Gabriel Allon, to be engrossing, well-researched and well-written. However, on a comparative basis, my level of enjoyment has dropped a notch. In small part, this is due to the action that occurs being not quite as intense as in some of the other books in the series. The larger factor contributing to my comparative drop in enjoyment is that, after reading all eleven of the Gabriel Allon books, the successful formula on which Silva has based his series is "showing some superficial age lines" and the development of his main and key supporting characters need some refreshening. As such, I would not be disappointed if Silva's next book is a stand-alone.
Despite these comparative criticisms, I still consider Silva to be the "gold standard" of thriller writers. For me, there has never been a risk involved in reading a Silva book, with the only unknown being whether the book will be very good or excellent.
On the cookie cutter front, we have the standard Allon associates-Shamron, Uri, the Allon Team, and now extended elements in the CIA and the world of broadcast news. We have world class bad guys with an agenda...but the new trick is that the bad guys will be found by routing funds to them with the help of the daughter of...a man Allon killed and who dies in the arms of the daughter Allon wants help from.
If there is a weakness in the Allon series, it may be how anyone who is asked feels compelled to help Allon, and in the course of working with/for him they come to see him as being wonderful...even here. No one comes away feeling used or bitter or in any way conflicted or angry. That is the opportunity Silva misses in Portrait of a Spy.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great as usual! Always interesting and very relevant to our timesPublished 9 days ago by Virginia M. Dostie
I feel so lucky Daniel Silva is in my life--not only is he one of the best current story tellers but I learn so much about the history of the Middle East, the Jewish people, the... Read morePublished 14 days ago by Dante
Daniel Silva produces another well written and well researched novel.
Characters, intelligence agencies and political perspective worth the time to read.
Excellent writing! I'm always amazed at the intricacies a fine writer uses to build plot and suspense. I'm a Silva fan.Published 28 days ago by V. Franklin
I loved his past books but that's where they should stay, in the past. He takes up a third of the book going over what happened in the past. We know all that. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Vincent Zottola
I love the details intrigue and desire to read on with Allon, yet Daniel I'd getting a bit OTT with his captures and beatings and eventual escapes.Published 1 month ago by D. N. Larsen-sorterup