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The man from Greek and Roman: A novel

de James Goldman

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Perhaps a bit dated, but well written with all the elements of a good mystery. Goldman is a good writer and I hope he got the recognition he deserves. Wrote many screen plays. I like the elements of the classics and art that he weaves through the story. The main character was the Dept. Head of the Greek and Roman section of the Met in New York. His office looked out on Central Park. ( )
  MMc009 | Jan 30, 2022 |
This was a nigh-unto-irresistable journey back thirty-five years. The author is the man who wrote the play The Lion in Winter and won an Oscar for adapting it into a screenplay. I don't like reading plays, or screenplays, but that's one of my all-time fave-rave movies. What are the odds Mr. G can bring home the goods in a novel set in modern times?, I asked myself, and decided to find out.

I thought this book was a re-read. I have an ancient mass-market paperback of it, after all, and also a book-club edition hardcover; those sound like broke kid buys. But it would seem I've never clapped eyes on so much as a para of the book before, for all the sense of recognition I had. It's very possible that I encountered the protagonist, Melvil (oof) West, and recognized the reference to Herr Dewey of the decimal system, and was put off; then encountering Mrs. West, yclept "Dido," sent the book onto the hold pile basically forever. I mean, a specialist in Greek and Roman antiquities married to a woman, born in the 1930s at the latest, named Dido was a little icky.

Whatever, I'm chill now in my latest-possible forties, I cruised past these obstacles. I almost gave up again, however, as we are guided through the soul-numbingly dull life of Dr. West, curator of Greek and Roman, and his shrill, annoying, one-dimensional future ex-wife Dido. Things don't pick up until the curveball on about p65, when Melvil decides to steal the Holy Grail.

It's a chalice, you see, in excellent preservation, made of gold and silver plate and dating from about the first century AD (as we called it then, now of course "CE"). It's just bound to cause a stir when it's unveiled, thinks Melvil...and does it ever! Everybody and his little tarantula scuttles from dark, unpleasant corners of the Universe, like the Vatican, and claims the little marvy. Melvil, in his foggy and boozed-up brain, conceives that the chalice (which he is certain is NOT the Holy Grail because there can be no such object {for unspecified reasons}) is really his because only he really cares about it for its beauty and wants to keep it safe from greedy, unscrupulous people.

So he walks out of the museum with it. Just like that. I mean, even in 1974, they had security checks and the like. C'mon, I thought, and then...let it go. Who cares about the heist, let's see where woolly-headed dullard Melvil goes...

To the airport. Where he meets the one woman in all the world who can help him spirit the chalice to England, where he plans to confront the famous, gay archaeologist who claims the chalice was stolen from him. The arrival of West and girl doesn't go unnoticed by the UK cops, but the sympathetic portrayal of the gay archaeologist and his light-o-love is the surprise for me in this section.

Oh what the hell...I hate book reports with plot diagrams and such-like...if you want to know more about the book's events, buy it and read it. Now, SHOULD you buy it? I think, on balance, yeah. It's far from as good as The Lion in Winter, but it's pretty well-written. It's not at all like the modern book trend of making sure the treasure is Fraught with Significance, it's just a supremely rare work of art and so intrinsically valuable, and that's sorta refreshing. It's a dated piece for any number of reasons, but not least is the seemingly evergreen trope of "gorgeous, rich young lady falls in love with middle-aged schmoe" played with a straight face.

But it evokes an honest man's emotional reasons for doing something dishonest, indeed criminal, and does so very well. It gives us a look at the emotional landscape of two frozen people who, for silly reasons, unfreeze each other. And those are very real events, seen in the newspapers daily, both in the stories told and in the legal notices of divorce and bankruptcy and so on.

And the twist ending is pretty darn well hidden until the end!

Recommended for anyone over 45, and for sentimentalists in general (see page 215). ( )
2 vota richardderus | May 29, 2009 |
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