Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Human Body: A Book Review

The Human BodyThe Human Body by Paolo Giordano
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received my copy from the publisher's First To Read program.

We were walking through Rome a few years ago, and came upon a protest camp. As we continued on our way we passed a group of men we guessed to be some element of authority, dressed in black uniforms that hinted at Special Forces or maybe some kind of SWAT team. They stood next to their vehicles, preening in clothes that were well fitted, down to the bulletproof vests. They were not in the least bit intimidating, and I could not help but recall them when I read THE HUMAN BODY.

Author Paolo Giordano takes the reader into the world of the Italian Army in Afghanistan, populating his novel with a cast of characters that covers the spectrum. There is the innocent boy of twenty with a clinging mother, the bully, the doctor and his fellow officers struggling to understand what they are doing and why. There is a single woman in the company to provide sexual tension. This being Italian, there is an element of tribalism. Northerners and southerners don't much like each other, which adds to the disunity of this particular group of soldiers.

Like any combat operation, there is a great deal of boredom followed by intense action, and the novel follows the pattern. The first part of the story is a series of character studies that are as boring to read as the wait for something to happen in war. They squabble. They joke. They are unlikable, pathetic, trying to be emotionally torn but coming across as self-important. They are, unfortunately, uninteresting.

The author head-hops through the group but for some reason he selected the unit's doctor for brief spurts of first-person narrative that added nothing to the story. A good editor would have sliced the sections out for being the parts of a novel that readers skip over. Maybe the vignettes were there to reveal something about the character, but why this character and not some of the others?

I read through even though I wanted very much to give up on the book. Like the Italian authorities in Rome, there was a lack of substance under the handsome veneer.

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