The Monuments Men by Robert M. Esdel

I saw a trailer of the film based on this book and for once was quite taken by it (My reaction to film trailers is usually either “Why did anyone bother?” or “Mmmm, maybe, but I think I got enough without seeing the whole film”.) So I was looking forward to reading The Monuments Men, a book club choice. Whereas no one could deny the gripping nature of the story told – what could be more compelling than a handful of men and women deciding that their war should be a fight against the destruction of art? – we found quite a lot to say about the disappointing writing. For my part, I thought it clunky, uneasily attempting both a documentary film script and a “ripping yarn”. I feel sure that I was more severe for having recently read The Hare With Amber Eyes, a far more personal and compellingly told tale of objets d’art and dwellings as war victims.

Yes, I did learn things and yes, the letter extracts reproduced (from the “mounuments men” themselves, from Goering etc.) were absolutely fascinating. And we were all happy that one of the guys got his grandad’s or his great uncle’s book or lithograph (temporary memory failure here, possibly indicative of insufficiently engaging writing?) collection back. But I thought the author could have done a better job with the research undertaken for this book, and sparked far more probing questions about, for instance, the value of preserving art when lives are at stake.

You know what? I’ll go and see the film and see if the scriptwriter polished up the undoubtedly very good material in this book.

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