Not often do I read a book in parts, while interrupting to read something different altogether, but early in the summer, I started reading Edward Dolnick's book The Forger Spell on my eBook. I kept it handy when I did my time on the exercise bike (one of the best ways, I am convinced, to use e-Readers), but the nature of the book--highly researched and factual--didn't keep me reading just to see what happened next.
The book is the story of Van Meergen, a Dutch forgerwho successful fooled many buyers, art critics, and museums during WWII with his forgeries of works of DeHooch and especially Jan Vermeer. Among his victims was the Nazi Herman Goering. Failing to receive acclaim in his own rights, Van Meergen discovered a number of clever tricks to produce paintings that not only passed for the work of better known painters, but even found ways to simulate aging of the canvas and paints.
Heavily researched, the author took readers in a number of directions, but for me the best part came in the last section in which he described the hunt for art and artifacts after the war and the trial of Van Meergen after his discovery. Interestingly, the forger actually confessed to forgery to avoid a far worse crime at the time, collaboration with the Nazis. Many of those he duped were unwilling or at least reluctant to believe his confession, so his trial became something of a media circus.
The book has so much material of interest in the fields of art, history, and psychology. It just didn't have the page-turning quality that I seek in fiction--and that was fine. I've long been a fan of Vermeer (trendy now, I suppose, because of the fairly recent novels, The Girl in the Pearl Earring and The Girl in Hyacinth Blue), so I can imagine how the art world would have swooned over the possibility of adding to his small body of works.
The other novel I finished recently, Yann Martel's Beatrice and Virgil, was more disconcerting. I am a huge fan of his novel The Life of Pi. In fact, it was one of the optional books I assigned a few years ago with a group of AP students eager to read more. This latest book, though, is dark and baffling. It is about the Holocaust and it is not. He actually builds a story-within-a-story when the protagonist, with one successful and one failed novel, is contacted by a taxidermist--and an odd one at that--who is writing a play about a howler monkey and a donkey, Virgil and Beatrice. Something about that part of the story reminds me of Waiting for Godot. The book, I feel sure, is intended to be unsettling. I'm not sure how to recommend the book. It's certainly not a feel-good beach book. The underlying theme seems to deal with how to be able to find words to talk about something as horrific as the Holocaust.
Most haunting are a series of questions posed at the end of the novel, in the guise of a game. I look forward to finding someone else who has read Martel's latest book because I certainly need to talk it through.