Tracking Giorgione by Thomas Kabdebo

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Tracking Giorgione by Thomas Kabdebo

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A scholar goes on the trace of a missing masterpiece of Italian art, but we go in search of a compelling plot, or realistic dialogue.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Brandon Books
ISBN: 978-0863223945

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A young interest in art gets the Italian-parented, Fulham-living George a lifelong passion for the works of his name-sake, Giorgione, who painted in the Venice region in the 1500s. This passion gets made more insular by mysterious connections and claims, primarily of lost pieces by this contemporary of Titian, who has so few extant works to his name. Throughout the decades he uses the links created by the friends and relatives of his lovely wife Helena and more, but still finds it hard to track Giorgione.

As much as there is an interesting book to be had in finding lost, missing or uncredited artworks, and as much merit there would be in the story of Giorgione - famous people crossing his circle, a very early plague-raddled death - this is not that book. It deals with a lot more than his particular paintings and frescoes, although the charming picture of his adapted for the cover here gets a lot of discussion, as do some other pieces the book demands us look up online.

Instead we get a first-person narrative from George as he writes (initially in diary form, only for that to be dropped) about his life, with interruptions from his wife giving birth (in a most unpleasant scene that made me want to throw the book away), various holidays, and students of his he puts on the Giorgione trail. Thus the book opens up - we learn all of the various cars he drives, the copious seafood the impoverished art teacher gobbles up throughout Europe. This is as far removed from the da Vinci Code style of art-hunting drama as one could get.

That might be the book's biggest problem for some people, but for me there was a bigger one. I just could not believe in the dialogue. As dull as the proposition may be, of two characters standing in front of a picture the book is too churlish to reproduce for us, and describing it, the characters here spout forth in art catalogue-ese. It's not particularly exposition, or stunted, or even a nicely nuanced representation of erudition, it's just bluntly non-fiction dressed in speechmarks. There's far too many instances of me to choose to quote from, and it might not work in isolation. Trust me, with too much of it too often, it kills this book.

So while I have to thank the author for introducing me to an artist I knew nothing of before, I have to have him up on the style of book he has made. It flirts with diary, letters and other forms, just as it covers the mundane and the special. It is peppered with high-falutin' details, of five star accommodation, Italian cuisine and art, erudite quotes from more people I am ignorant of opening each chapter, so much so I feel it more suited to a literary fiction than a general audience.

But with the stilted artificial attempts at dialogue urging me to ditch the book early, as well as the sheer missed-opportunity nature of the book covering something so interesting in such a bland and unappealing way, I really find it hard to recommend this book. It has flashes of personal detail - I liked the daughter's entrance into the world of sculpture modelling, among several instances of clever fiction - and it tempted me to look elsewhere, for which I am grateful. It's just it tempted me to do so long before it had finished.

We must still thank the people at Brandon Books for our review copy.

Artworks impacting on real-life can be found in The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean. If you feel up to reviewing The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown for us, please do! You might also enjoy My Brother is an Only Child by Antonio Pennacchi.

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Steve MacDonogh said:

As the book's publisher, I was obviously disappointed that your reviewer didn't like it, and I'd like to just take the opportunity to say that opinions can (almost inevitably will) differ. I note, for example, that the reviewer in the Galway Advertiser took a very different view and felt that:

Tracking Giorgione is a book in which the writing appears effortless, which always means that a great deal of work has been invested in it. The most difficult thing in the world for a writer, especially when dealing with a 'high' subject such as this, with its huge potential to inspire self-important writing, is not to appear like you're trying too hard." Also, the reviewer in Historical Novels Review considered that:

This is an intriguing and unusual tale.

Steve MacDonogh Brandon/Mount Eagle Publications

Sue replied:

Thanks for that, Steve - we're always happy to publish views which don't agree with our own and the more opinions that we have about any particular book, the better.