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The element -inth in Greek by Alison Fell
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The element -inth in Greek

by Alison Fell

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The novelist writes in an engaging style and is easy to read and enjoy her various poetic phrases. This fictional novel, part mystery, part detective and part fact, is based on the life of Alice Kober who was the first to decipher the ancient Cretan script Linear Code B. Unfortunately Alice died before her contribution was recognized. The author unfolds life on a Greek island, its inhabitants and customs. their emotions and the interaction of the tourists in the midst of a mysterious death. Alice Kober appears briefly throughout the scenario but is overshadowed by all the other characters. Nevertheless it is a good read and a quality novel on its own merit. ( )
  mcdenis | Oct 19, 2017 |
Here's a thing. There are three nested tales in this book. At the heart of it is a slight biography of Alice Kober, an archaeologist who did much of the preparatory work for the decipherment of Linear B, a form of ancient Greek. Then comes the tale of another archaeologist, the main subject of the book, who is researching Kober's work. And that's all wrapped up in a detective story.

The two things that stand out is that the author can handle language very well (she is also a poet), and can string a bunch of plots together neatly. She's also a keen observer of character. The book is full of intriguing descriptions and thought-provoking asides. It is also more, or perhaps less, than its parts. Independence, whether fierce, reluctant or imposed, is a theme throughout, and it explores, if tangentially, why we believe things - whether it's assumptions we've made for ourselves, or the political or religious tenets we adhere to.

That's all good, and done with a deft and light hand. This is still a book anyone could happily read on a bus. What lets it down, if anything, is some slapdash editing. As well as a few mis-spellings that will no doubt grate, there's also an unevenness to the book that left this reader wondering what the point of one plot point might have been, and why another wasn't explored in more depth. According to the acknowledgments, the author spent three years researching the book, and the reader will, at times, feel the baleful influence of a looming deadline. Perhaps that's just a very clever ploy. Or perhaps it isn't.

Another book on Kober The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code has been in preparation, using the same archives, apparently for seven years, and was published last month. Having, for its author, the Obituarist of the New York Times, it's bound to have made a bigger splash, so perhaps Fell really was under pressure to publish first. If so, then given Kober's story is that of a conscientious worker at risk of being overshadowed by brasher rivals, it would be subtly ironic.
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  Gumbly-Frith | Jun 3, 2013 |
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