Sunday, July 30, 2006

Book Review: "The Third Translation"

I can sum up my recommendation of author Matt Bondurant's debut novel The Third Translation (2005) in two words: skip it. I almost didn't finish this book; the only reason I did was to make sure that it didn't improve as it moved along - turns out I needn't have worried about that.

Some of my problems with Third Translation are perhaps stylistic: Bondurant doesn't put quotation marks around his dialogue, which I found incredibly annoying; he also repeats many of the same descriptive phrases and/or scenes (including a particularly repulsive motif in which the main character's neighbors come into his apartment to use the bathroom) and has the odd habit of referring to one character by his full name, "Alan Henry" (which creates a ripple effect of tortured pronoun usage that could perhaps have been mitigated by the efforts of an editor).

Those issues are minor, however, compared to the fact that the plot is barely developed (and then - perhaps fittingly - barely comes to a conclusion, most of which is to be found only in the epilogue). The characters are either too bland or too ridiculous to be believable (the introduction of a gang of American pro-wrestlers was yet another point where I almost gave up on this book), and the sections where Bondurant tries to discuss Egyptology are totally lost amongst the silliness of the rest of the book.

The author's interest in Egyptology and particularly in the unsolved puzzle of the Stela of Paser are evident. Unfortunately, I don't think his attempt to make a thriller out of them turned out particularly well.