Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snapshot Book Review: The Queen of the South

The Queen of the South The Queen of the South by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is a book for history-lovers. Anyone who wants the who/how/where/when/why will love the detail and precision with which every event in this book is told. Unless you truly grew up in the culture about which it is written, and know about drug runs and border crossings and vacuum-packing marijuana in bricks to stow away in speedboats, I would wager than Perez-Reverte could convince any reader that he has done his homework. And if you did grow up in that culture, perhaps that would merely strengthen this book’s case, because perhaps you would merely provide validation.

The problem is that writing a good novel isn’t just about convincing a reader that you’ve done your homework. It isn’t just including every minute detail to show that you know exactly how an operation is performed. The Queen of the South doesn’t “show off,” exactly, like some books do, but it does include more detail than I, a “what’s next!? what’s next!?” kind of reader, deem necessary

For me, all of the details get in the way. Sure, they made the book “authentic,” made the characters seem extremely knowledgeable, and helped Teresa grow as her knowledge grew, but as a reader who wanted to remain gripped in suspense, those long passages of who-did-what-where-how took me out of the “rush” of the novel. I often felt as though I were reading a history textbook, when I wanted to be watching an action movie inside my head.

The Queen of the South has definite appeal for a certain kind of reader: a patient, painstaking, detail-oriented reader who isn’t looking to necessarily be “swept away” and doesn’t mind interruptions in the flow of the story. This ability to tolerate interruptions is important because, aside from the frequently interruptive overly-detailed explanations, Perez-Reverte uses a very interruptive structure to tell his story: a seemingly dual point of view, coming firstly from an omniscient third-person narrator following Teresa Mendoza chronologically and secondly from an anonymous first-person journalist situated in “current time.” The novel would have flowed much more seamlessly without the “present-day” interruptions of the journalist, who seemed as unnecessary as he was intrusive.

All of this being said, Teresa’s story was a gripping one, and one worth being told. Perez-Reverte has a talent for creating mood in a scene while using very little in the way of “literary flourish,” and also for maintaining consistently believable, dynamic characters. Teresa’s various relationships with men and with her cellmate Patty all strike genuine and complex, even as Teresa herself reflects on them little and tries to block them from her mind.

It will be interesting to see what other work Perez-Reverte will produce after this novel.

View all my reviews.

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