This could be quite a clever story but it has some flaws which I note at the end of this review. In spite of those flaws, the tale is interesting; it is mysterious even though the plot is revealed early in the book. Throughout, the author tells—bit by bit, the how, the when, and the wherefore of—his stealing the famed, Mona Lisa which hung in the Louvre.
The antagonist in the story is Bollino, a man who cleverly alters his social stature in life until he becomes a faux aristocrat. Bollino had no real claim to fame, but after his father died and he moved to Paris with some inherited money, he decides he will become accepted in the best aristocratic circles In France. To him, living in Paris as a wealthy man would become his life’s aim.
Over a period of years, Bollino becomes involved in various schemes to improve his lot; to buy him the finest clothes; to win him women from high society; and to purchase a respectable dwelling place.
His basic schemes are simple. He hires a painter who is exceptionally good at reproducing copies of famous artworks. He works with henchmen to steal famous paintings from museums. Then he sells his reproductions to persons in high society. Of course he must change his name and his image as his wealth accumulates: Bollino, Juan Maria, Petrone, Bonaglia, and finally, The Marques de Valfierno.
Bollino Valfierno buys only the best clothing to look the part of a real, upper crust, well-travelled, knowledgeable, world-wise marquis. With wealth comes acceptance. He is invited to dances, balls, horse races, the theater—any place where people of nobility gather for aristocratic entertainment. Valfierno’s real quest is to become so wealthy he will never have to work.
To achieve this tantalizing end, Valfierno hires three subordinates to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. One can only imagine the ruckus when people around the world hear that the famed Mona Lisa has vanished. One can imagine how infamous art collectors feel to know that the Marques de Valfierno has a deeply hidden inside connection to the notorious thief who, of course, will sell the painting for an exorbitant price.
Valfierno’s plan works. He is so obsessed with himself and his life style and the fact that in his mind, he pulled off the greatest art heist of all time, that he divulges his story to a Newspaperman. And this is where I will leave the reader. What are the details of this one-of-a-kind heist from the Louvre? How did this man, who started out with relatively modest beginnings, end up as an accepted marquis in high brow society?
The Vanishing of the Mona Lisa has serious flaws which make the book difficult to read. This, I think, is not the fault of author Martin Caparros. It comes about because the book is a translation. There were times when I was uncertain as to who was actually speaking or telling the story. Was it the Marques de Valfierno or was it his Newspaperman or was it the all-seeing author? The fact that the book is difficult to follow makes it less enjoyable than it probably would be in its own language.
I would recommend The Vanishing of the Mona Lisa with a strong reservation. Be prepared for some confusion over who is actually speaking. At times, it seems that a character has several names which leads to even more identity confusion. In addition, time periods often change without warning. I’m thinking that the book needs a translator who can smooth over and clarify times, places, and people.