Review: Luis Fernando Verissimo – The Spies

the-spies-luis-verissimoOne of the reasons for the decline in the number of books that I’ve been reading over the last few months is the length of the ones I’ve managed to get through. The Strangler’s Honeymoon came to over 600 pages and Summertime All the Cats are Bored had 400. What’s shaping up to be my book of the year, I am Pilgrim was an eye watering 704 pages. It’s a big difference to the books that I devoured as a teenager which I could easily read in an afternoon. Even taking into account the pressures of teaching and other calls on my time, the days of reading a book in a couple of hours are long gone.

A quick look at my mountainous TBR pile revealed a dearth of books that are short in length. However, one that had been sitting ignored for over a year was Luis Fernando Verissimo’s The Spies. I’d read a good review of the book at the excellent blog, Winston’s Dad, so I was keen to give it a go. I was able to read it in two short bursts and it turned out to be far from my normal reading material.

The narrator, a disaffected reader for a small publisher in Brazil, spends his Mondays sending out rejection letters to the deserving and undeserving alike. When he receives the first few pages of a manuscript purportedly written by a young women who is going to commit suicide, his interest is piqued. He enlists the help of his disparate band of friends to track down the woman and rescue her from her brutal husband.

Verissimo is one of Brazil’s most popular contemporary writers. His book really defies genre boundaries but although I saw ‘comic noir’ attached to the description of this book. There is certainly something comic about the way the hapless group of spies attempt to infiltrate a small Brazilian community to track down the mysterious author of the manuscript ‘Ariadne’. There are references to the Greek myth of Dionysus as well as what is clearly an obsession of the author, football. It’s not a crime novel in the traditional sense but I enjoyed it and it was great to read something different. And short.

Thanks to MacLehose Press for my review copy.

16 thoughts on “Review: Luis Fernando Verissimo – The Spies

  1. Sarah, I read this recently, and it was so obscure I thought no-one else would have! Glad to see your review. I enjoyed it without going overboard, but it certainly was unusual, and like you I loved the fact that it was short.


  2. It does seem to have been a year for big books, doesn’t it! I’ve read quite a few recently, too. And lots of the big buzz-books and prize-winners of 2013 seem to have been fairly hefty. So it’s nice to hear about something short, and this sounds really quirky and unusual, so thanks for the heads up. Gorgeous cover, too!


  3. Speaking to the thoughts about long books… I have read no books over 450 pages this year (and I had two challenges that called for such). But I read more books than every before in a year. There are however lots of books of that size that I want to read, so I guess next year I will read them and my totals will go down. Hope I like them. I really have enjoyed some of the shorter books I have read. Right now I am reading an Agatha Christie that is under 170 pages.

    Speaking of The Spies. This book sounds very interesting and I will look for it… add it to my list. I am definitely going to read I am Pilgrim, but I am not going to read such a long book as an ebook and that is the only way it is available here now. So I am waiting until mid-year 2014 to buy a hardback version.


    1. As you can see from my review, I absolutely loved ‘I am Pilgrim’. And I much prefer hard copies to e-books. I’m not sure I could be so disciplined to read only shorter books all the time. But it’s nice to read a book in a couple of sittings.


  4. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – I often wonder at that phenomenon of recent years – the lengthening of novels. There are a lot of explanations for it, but whatever the reason, it does seem that it means we read fewer books in a given period of time. I’m glad you found an enjoyable one that’s also short .


  5. Kathy D.

    Yes, good observation on reading fewer books, because of their length. I read The Cuckoo’s Calling and Critical Mass, both around 450 pages. Another at 400 pages.
    I so long to read 300-page books or around that. i want a book like Sjowall/Wahloo’s series or Camilleri’s where I can sit with tea and cookies on weekend afternoons and read a whole book. Once I start a long one and go into weekdays, where I’m busy, I can’t get back to a book until late when I’m very tired or the weekends. So it takes a long time to read a hefty tome.
    Why is this happening?
    I’m glad you liked this book, and that it was unusual. Just the short-length factor is enough to pull me in.


  6. I received a copy of this year’s Booker Prize winner for my recent birthday – it’s 848 pages. I put it in a cupboard because i didn’t want to look at it’s bigness on my shelves 🙂

    This book on the other hand sounds terrific on several levels, not least of which is the length


  7. I wouldn’t mind the length so much if it wasn’t often simply padding. I don’t know how many times I’ve said in reviews this year ‘could have been cut by a third/half and been a better book as a result’. I’ve reached the stage of looking at the length of a book before deciding whether to add it to the TBR pile…


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