I was inspired to read this novel after recently seeing a trailer for the film "The American," starring Mr. George Clooney. I was immediately irked by the title change. Let me quote briefly from the book: "I do not claim to be either English or French, German, Swiss, American, Canadian, South African. Nothing in fact." So much for adhering to the source material.
That being said, the film can do nothing but improve upon the book. Maybe I am being a little more harsh, because I was expecting a thriller of sorts. This is more of an anti-thriller. It reads more like a travelogue by some aging ex-patriot, who is enjoying the quiet life in small Italian village. He savors the locals wines, and prostitutes; and enjoys afternoon conversations with the wise old priest, who secretly smokes ham in his basement. Mr. Farfalla (Farfalla
being Italian for butterfly), as far as anyone in the village knows, paints portraits of butterflies for a living. The priest senses that this is a cover, and that Farfalla actually has more money than that pastime would provide. The struggling artist persona is a cover for his actual occupation: Weapons manufacturer for international assassins.
Farfalla considers himself to be an artist of a different sort. He is a creator of the tool that enables taking of a life, but not just any life. To Farfalla, these assassinations — be they politically motivated, or the taking out of a drug kingpin — enable a shift in history. He takes pride in the fact that he has helped create the havoc, which — when the dust clears — reshape entire economies and societies.
There is also a love story thrown into the mix when, as Farfalla comes to the end of his last job, he begins to fall for one of the two whores that he has been regularly bedding. Any inklings of romance do not really begin to appear until the last fifty pages, and by that time the reader will most likely not care. The amoral main character does not elicit much sympathy from the reader. And, unless you are about to take a vacation to the countryside of Italy, there is not much point to the long-winded descriptions of the history and topography of the region. In the end I could think of many other tales of professional assassins (Trevanian and Robert Ludlum come to mind) that are more compelling than A Very Private Gentleman