Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Review: The Coral Thief, by Rebecca Stott
Paris: 1815. Napoleon is in exile, and hundreds of medical students have flocked to the city to study at the Jardin des Plantes under Cuvier, the world-famous naturalist. Daniel Connor is one of these students, hired to be one of Cuvier’s legion of assistants. On his arrival, he falls asleep in the coach, and finds that his suitcase-filled with specimens, a manuscripts, and letters of recommendation—has been stolen.
It’s a well-researched novel, and beautifully written. But at times I felt as though the narrator was very much emotionally detached from the story he was telling. He didn’t seem to be very passionate about the subject he was studying, or even about Lucienne, with whom he was supposedly in love. I was more interested in the character of Jagot, the thief-turned-police detective—based on, or course, Eugene Francois Vidoq. And that’s another thing that kind of bothered me: why did Stott make up a totally new character to act as Daniel’s foil? Why couldn’t she simple have used the real Vidoq instead? But as I’ve said, the story is interesting and well-written. It just seems a bit too “literary” at times.
Also reviewed by: Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker