Review by Karl Verhoven
Daniel Brodin is fooling himself. He considers himself an intellectual and a poet, and steals far more books than he can read, but he’s never had an original idea. He’s therefore inordinately influenced by anyone he sees as different and cutting edge, whether or not there’s any substance to their proclamations. Luckily for him, the company he chances into thrives on hollow phrases, and he’s equally accepted by what at one time were the Parisian poetry avant-garde, but now the establishment, and a younger generation of nihilists. He discovers it gradually, but it transpires that Daniels’s greatest skill is being able to feed the right people the nonsense they want to hear as his personal philosophy. In keeping with his lack of originality, it’s just a case of floating A’s words to B and vice versa: “I whipped out everything I could remember of Gilles’ speech about art being passé and laid it on him, explaining the connection between car theft and poetry”.
A fine line is straddled by the creators. They’re using Daniel’s fraudulent personality as a method of exposing vacant logic and thought among the Parisian avant garde of the early 1950s, but avoid turning him and his acquaintances into farcical characters. Pierre Van Hove has designed Daniel well for his visual needs. He’s either the louche faux intellectual, the drunk or stoned wastepail, or running around like a sitcom protagonist attempting to prevent the discovery of what he really is. A pleasing sketchy detail otherwise characterises Van Hove’s pages. He fills his panels neatly and atmospherically, evocatively conjuring up exoticism for a bygone era.
Amid some darkly comic turns, there’s a reactionary morality to Alessandro Tota’s story. Daniel isn’t intended as likeable, and his rise only takes us halfway through. Tota weaves the totems of post-war Parisian society around Daniel as his plot poses questions about what’s truly worthwhile, and investigates the fatal allure of danger as authenticity for the artistic elite. Most of all Tota is inspired by Picasso’s maxim that all art is theft. Initial comments linking the two are trivially comic, but he persists with the connections, eventually reversing the phrase for his finale with Daniel having sunk into a different form of delusion.
Memoirs of a Book Thief is clever, amusing and satirical, with SelfMadeHero’s presentation an attractive hardcover package. Steal this book? Obviously.