Friday, June 15, 2012

The Luneburg Variation by Paolo Maurensig

I was a chess champion at Primary School and have never played since.

When I was teaching in Malawi, I agreed with my student Patricia who wrote in her notebook: 'Life is too short for playing chess' (I'm sure she wasn't the first person to say that either).

Despite these biases against the game, I started reading The Luneburg Variation with high anticipation of a great book and I wasn't disappointed.

The novel centres round the mysterious death of a chess player in Vienna. It's difficult to talk about the plot without giving away a lot of the enjoyment of this short novel. Throughout the novel chess is used as a metaphor for life and the choices we make and the choices made by others that we are caught up in. The novel also explores the effect that chess can have on life when it becomes a consuming passion.

I love the way that every detail counts, and is used to full effect. In an early scene we are shown some photos in the chess player's home, which at that time are immediately seen to be significant, but they reappear later in the story where their full significance is revealed. Details like this are used throughout the novel to slowly reveal more about the chess player, his life and the times he lived through.

This is a taut and compelling thriller which contains much more substance than many long novels. It is particularly impressive when you realise this was Maurensig's first novel (he has since written several more, which I now really want to read!). I also have to say that it is beautifully translated from the original Italian. I've read many translations from Italian that feel quite clunky, but this one flows beautifully for the most part.

The Luneburg Variation by Paolo Maurensig published by Phoenix 

I reviewed this book for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge

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