Posted by: roamingolivia | May 24, 2010

Book Review: The Leopard

This book is an example of inexplicable hype, and/or where my tastes in literature diverge from the rest of humanity’s. I do recognise this as a good book, but I did not enjoy it.

Here, let me explain:

I have been doing a lot of risk matrices, so for this book, I would give it a 2 or 3 for Importance, but only a 1 or maybe 2 for Enjoyability. So overall, it will get a 4 or a 6.

Unfortunately, there is no matrix on Goodreads, which asks me to just say if it was “ok” or if “I loved it” etc. So I will give it 2 stars, out of 5. On GoodReads, this book gets an average of 3.96 stars, which is pretty high.

Now, on to the review: This book was really really boring. Like, every time I started reading it, I had to take a nap. I don’t know why, exactly – I don’t always have to take naps when I start reading books. It was just this book. I didn’t like any of the characters, but I liked parts of the writing.

In terms of Importance, though, this is more clear-cut: It was written in the 20th Century, and so tainted by a certain agenda most likely (in my opinion, a kind of nostalgia for the aristocracy? and a yearning to go back to what was lost in their demise). But it is about a really interesting period in Europe and the US – namely around mid-to-late 19th Century. In the 1850s and 1860s, a lot of really interesting things were happening all over Europe, from Russia to Italy, in terms of social discussions of how countries and societies want to organise themselves. I find this period pretty interesting inherently, and this is one of a few books that attempts to capture how the aristocracy felt about this, and evaluate what was lost in going to “democracy” and liberal values. This makes it relatively interesting inherently, as an examination of the demise of the aristocracy in Sicily in that period.

But I think I could have taken it more seriously as a real expression of that if it had been written earlier, and not by a guy whose family palace had just been bombed in WW2. This makes it seem, to me, like a bitter, sappy, snobby, elitist and relatively one-sided explanation. This still has a certain value, as it is the side that did lose, and thus gets to tell its story less, than the democracy and liberalism side. So that upped its Importance rating. But Enjoyability was really dragging it down.

I was reading 1 book a week until I hit this book, which is only 212 pages but took me about a month to read, and led me to dabble in several other unfulfilling books. The good thing is that this book has given me new strength and protection for the assaults of boring, such that I now have energy and stamina to attempt to finish Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (another suggestion gleaned from Alex Ross’ The Rest is Noise), which has been on hold since late November, when my life became too busy and interesting to continue reading that. Even then, I enjoyed large parts of the book, but the prose is often very dense. But I read with pleasure for at least an hour after I finished The Leopard.

Entirely unrelated life update: I can now add Milan to the list of “cities that are toxic for me in the Spring”, which up until now only included Washington DC. The weather is beautiful, but I spent all weekend in the park, and am now unable to breathe unaided by drugs. I went to the pharmacy and obtained something (I love these places in foreign countries – you say what is wrong with you, and they give you something incomprehensible, and you look it up later at home) that cost 11 Euros (drugs here are expensive!) but appears to combine my favourite drug, pseudoephedrine, and an anti-histimine… and in English translates to Zirtec-D.



  1. This! Absolutely this! The Leopard was, in its day, that great London phenomenon, The Book Everyone’s Reading On The Tube. I read it six months later and was most disappointed. Though I am allergic to 19th century nobility novels after my degree course, so perhaps it wasn’t really meant for me.

  2. John has a similar spring problem and when we were in Belgium about five years ago, he realized he couldn’t breathe in a tiny French town. Went to the pharmacy, procured medicine (mostly through pantomime), and it promptly wrecked him for the next 36 hours. Complete knocked out drowsy/woozy mess. Didn’t even want to eat frites. Fortunately, he only spent three of those hours driving me around (scary).

    Which is all to say, I hope you feel better soon…

  3. Who are you, Gordon Pritchard, PhD? Robin Williams/John Keating would be ashamed of you for plotting literature on a punnet square! If it’s boring, it’s boring. Period.

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