One More River by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am angry at the nature's cruelest joke: when people accumulate so much knowledge about life that they can attempt to figure out the sense (or lack of) of it, it is their time to die. What a horrible waste! This novel is full of wisdom, and quiet sadness about life that is past. Where does all the wisdom go when one dies?
Nicholas Freeling's "One More River" is by no means a usual mystery. It is a virtuoso show of writing skill, a show by a true master who - close to the end of his life - once again demonstrates his incomparable craft.
I love the English language, which is (quite obviously) not my native language. This love was generously fed in the past by reading well over twenty books by Mr. Freeling; first the Van der Walk series, then the Henri Castang's series. "Guns Before Butter" is still one of my absolutely favorite mystery novels, some 45 years after I first read it. Mr. Freeling, an ex-cook and a thief of food, as he used to proudly point out, writes with an incomparable European flair and erudition. His English is richly peppered with French and German phrases. What's more European than French and German in the same place? Being a European myself (albeit from the suburbs), I love his writing.
The book is about an elderly British writer, who's living his late days in France (Mr. Freeling, a Brit, spent the later years of his life near Strasbourg in France). He has achieved a measure of success as a novelist, and he is comfortably off, but now his quiet life is rudely interrupted. He seems to be shot at, and his house is burned down. What is the meaning of all that? What is the meaning of life?
The denouement - to me - is not satisfying. But the beauty of the language stands strong, perhaps most spectacularly when a German writes in English. Who else but Mr. Freeling could write a phrase like "unaverse to having their tits fiddled with"? Who else could say "...the frontier between fiction, which is truth, and reality, which is not..." Who else could so effortlessly and seamlessly switch between the first and the third person in the narration; between the 'I' and the 'he'?
Nicholas Freeling died in 2009. Please read his books. This is the only way his life and his incomparable talent will make sense.
Mors aurem vellens, 'vivite' ait, 'venio'.
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