‘The Siege’ by Arturo Perez-Reverte

August 6, 2015 at 4:42 am 1 comment

the-siegeAs I’ve written about before, I have a summer tradition of reading Spanish literary fiction. This year, I found myself in even hotter weather than usual during a heatwave in Florence (105F!) and so I plunged wholeheartedly into both the pool and Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Siege.

The titular siege is the Siege of Cadiz, a French attempt to capture the Spanish port from 1810-1812. Limiting himself to those two years of the siege, Perez-Reverte assembles an interesting group of tales and ideas. All kinds of stories (each of which could be a book in their own right) are presented, from a serial killer murder mystery to the struggles of merchants in besieged Cadiz to a forbidden love story to the frustrations of a French engineer who just can’t get his bombs to land in Cadiz proper…among others! There are a great many plot threads running through this one, which I believe is Perez-Reverte’s longest novel.

This multiple-narrator style proves a fascinating way to tell the story of the siege, a historic event with which I was not familiar prior to reading this novel. Perez-Reverte plunges through nationalities, social classes, and locations to present a full picture of what the Siege of Cadiz meant and how it affected the lives of the people in and around Cadiz.

The addition of a fictitious serial killer plotline is almost superfluous; there was no need for such a hook in a novel as vivid and dense as The Siege already is. And, disappointingly, the resolution of the serial killer plot doesn’t tie together the other plotlines as I had hoped it would. Perez-Reverte sets up the murders as a focal point, but, while the murders touch lives within every story, not every story is involved (if that makes sense). In many of the stories, the murders are an asterisk, and an unnecessary one at that.

Instead, The Siege turns out to be more of a snapshot of two years in Cadiz (and the surrounding sea). It is somehow both leisurely portraiture and gripping narrative. Personally, I found the story of a female merchant/ship-owner the most captivating and, ultimately, the most painful. Indeed, her story (intertwined with that of the captain of one of her ships) haunted me for days afterward as I wondered what happened to her after the siege.

As ever, Perez-Reverte provided an excellent respite from the summer heat. The Siege has something for pretty much everyone — love, murder, pirates, engineering, military history, espionage, politics. Indeed, I think the only thing missing is any trace of the supernatural or magical. (You won’t miss it.) That said, I will note that the end of the book, despite the Spanish “victory”, is anything but uplifting, so if you’re looking for a light read, this isn’t it. But this is a great book, a thought-provoking beach read, and a fascinating puzzle box of a novel.

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Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction. Tags: , , , , .

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