Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Book reading

Finished reading "The Florentine Dagger" by Ben Hecht, written in 1923. Interesting book. Starts out as a rather simple mystery and gets rather complex by the end. A strange obsessed narrator/hero who doubts his own sanity adds to the spice. The first murder had this guy knifed and a crucifix laid on his chest and a candle lit by his head. Now me, I'm a huge lover of Italian opera, and so I read that and exclaimed outloud, "Tosca!" Cuz after Tosca knifes Scarpia, that's what she does, sets a crucifix on his chest and a candle (or two) at his head. Then, as the novel progressed, a mysterious lady named Floria appears. Tosca's first name is Floria. I'm thinking, hm, what an odd coincidence, is there supposed to be a connection here? And as it turns out, yes, there was a deliberate connection and the ending has everything to do with Tosca. Which I dig to pieces, of course, Tosca being my favorite opera.

Which made me wonder how such a book works for someone who doesn't have this background? Does it work better or worse? Would it simply be a much more straight-forward mystery story to someone unfamiliar with Tosca? Would the end then catch them by surprise, since the foreshadowing would be meaningless? Since this book was written in 1923, the audience of that time had a much bigger chance of being familiar either with the opera or Sardou's play than anyone reading this book today. There's also a whole subplot regarding the Medici family and their violent history. None of it is explained, it's taken for granted that readers know who they were. So, does a book still satisfy when your readers are no longer conversant with things that were once more commonly known? Such questions fascinate me.

I liked this section:

"I've a lot of speeches I've always wanted to include as a part of my first and last proposal. We'll get into a cab and I'll propose."
He hailed a taxi and they entered.
"Drive," he smiled at the chauffeur, "slowly and carefully, anywhere you want."
The man nodded, grinned, and pocketed a bill.
They were silent as the cab moved away.
"Well," said Florence at last, "you may begin."
De Medici looked at her. "I love you," he whispered. "Will you marry me?"
"You promised speeches," she laughed.
"I've changed my mind," he said, staring at her. "I can't think of anything to say."

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