Valparaiso by Nicolas Freeling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"[...] he was on his way. A way that would eventually lead him across the South Atlantic, around the dreadful cape, up the icy iron coast of Chile, to the sweet mimosa climate, and the beautiful hills and bay of Valparaiso."
Valparaiso (1964) is Nicolas Freeling's fifth novel, and the thirty-third work of his that I am reviewing here. It is Mr. Freeling's first non-series book and the readers hooked on Van der Valk's character must have been disappointed when the novel was published. While I love one-off books as they demonstrate that the writer is trying to be a real author rather than a Machine That Churns Out Series, this novel is not an extraordinary achievement. It is a good, solid, psychological suspense story, yet somewhat modest in the scope of the author's plans.
Raymond Kapitan lives on his yacht Olivia anchored on the island of Porquerolles on the southern coast of France, surviving on a meager inheritance left by his uncle. His life's dream is to sail to Valparaiso in Chile and enjoy its "beautiful hills and bay". Two fateful moments have defined Raymond's life: one when - in his youth - he was humiliated by his then lover's rich and powerful father, and the other - twenty years later - the conversation with Natalie, a vacationing actress with whom he is having an affair, provides the ultimate turning point.
Of course, being Mr. Freeling's work, Valparaiso is extremely well written, yet it is not as virtuosic and erudite as several later novels. The characterizations of all main characters are superbly drawn, and the portrayal of yachting life on the Mediterranean Sea is totally convincing compared to other similarly-themed books I have read. The novel also offers some references and similarities to Joseph Conrad's (Freeling's favorite author) Lord Jim, but it focuses mainly on human impotence against the vagaries of fate.
I am again reminded that there must be something quite wrong with the way I rate books. Valparaiso is just a good book and nowhere near a masterpiece, yet I find it so much better than my previous read, a work considered by many a tour de force - with the average rating of 4.09 (!) on Goodreads -
. I was briefly considering giving Mr. Thompson's book - despite its lack of narrative consistency and its sole intent to shock the reader with the vileness of the main character - a two-star rating. Had I done that, Mr. Freeling's novel should have been awarded with well over four stars, which it clearly does not deserve. I focus too much on author's writing skills - that's what is wrong with me.
Three and a half stars.
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