“Miss Swivven regretted two aspects of her career: this getting sunburned every week or so, and the occasional impersonal use Mr. Diamond made of her to relieve his tensions. Still, she was philosophic. No job is perfect.”
“Hana laughed softly. “Do call me Hana. After all, I am not Nicholai’s wife. I am his concubine.”
I’ve read "Shibumi" a long time ago. Its appeal was so great at the time that immediately after having finished it, I wanted to take up Basque lessons and learn to play Goo. Apparently and according to Trevanian, chess and Goo are utterly “different”:
‘”How would you compare chess with Goo?”
Nicholai thought for a second. “Ah…what Goo is to philosophers and warriors, chess is to accountants and merchants.”’
After more than 30 years I've read it once again, prior to tackle Satori by Don Winslow. I just wanted to have the novel fresh in my mind. Once again this is one hell of strange spy book. For starters Nicholai Hel, doesn't appear in the beginning of the book, and doesn't become an active part of the present-day action for almost another 200 pages. The first chapters mainly deal with either exposition provided by the antagonists or flashbacks to Hel's early life in Shanghai and in Japan before and during World War II. After that there's a long sequence involving Hel dilly-dallying in underground caverns in the Basque mountains. As in Goo, all the pieces are set in place and the plot moves to its inevitable conclusion. One wonders about choosing Goo as a game:
‘“Tell me, Nikko. Why did you choose to study Goo? It is almost exclusively a Japanese game. Certainly none of your friends played the game. They probably never even heard of it.”
“That is precisely why I chose Goo, Sir.”’
The novel’s strategy really shouldn't work, but it does. Without me noticing it, Trevanian manages to build suspense in unexpected ways, setting up set pieces filled with remarkable characters, dazzling action and elegant repartees (Le Cagot and Pierre the gardener are just wonderful characters). I still believe it’s one of the best spy novels ever written. There's no other like it.
At the time I remember discussing it with a friend of mine, and we both came to the conclusion that it was one of the great not-yet-filmed-novels, mainly because, for instance, there's the sequence in the cave that goes on for a long time in almost total darkness. But, sometimes what passes for art noveau in film, does not require major alterations for film adaptations…lol. I think this novel should be filmed by a set of directors: Tarantino for the final sequence in the Basque mountains, Besson for the 2 sequences in the cave-diving episode, and Woo for the sequence at the beginning of the novel at the airport. I think only the combination of these 3 directors would do the novel justice.
There are not many (spy) novels as gloriously corny as this one. An apt sub-title could be something like "Master of art, culture, and also the world's most skillful lover and deadliest killer on the face of the Earth". I love it when an author is making fun of me...This is also not your run-of-the-mill spy fiction novel. Enter Trevanian's world at your own peril.
I know it’s a re-read, but it’ll be one of my best reads for 2016, without a shadow of a doubt.