Monday, July 5, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: Man of the World by Layne Maheu

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review. 

Man of the World by Layne Maheu tells a story of the early days of aviation when airplanes were experimental, exciting, and dangerous. In these heady optimistic times, many intrepid investors and adventurers were determined to make it possible for people to fly.

The hero of the novel is Hubert Latham, a restless adventurer who finds a focus for his ambition in piloting a French-designed plane, financed in part by the father of the woman with whom he is hopelessly in love. The woman, Antoinette, loves Latham in return, but she’s married with a toddler son. It’s a little unclear why she married someone else, but it may have been that their families were against the match, though that’s also unexplained since the families had been friendly, vacationed together, and seemed to have been of the same social class. 

A second main character is Auguste, a young man who leaves his father’s farm and the deaf girl he loves in order to follow Latham and his crew. They have taken him on as a mechanic, but he seems to be more of a mascot. They’ve named him “Potato,” half mockingly and half affectionately. He narrates some of the activity surrounding the attempts to take to the air–particularly the attempts to be the first to cross the Channel from Calais to Dover. 

Auguste is aware that Latham is infatuated with Antoinette (after whom the successive planes made by their investment group are named) but he isn’t really privy to their meetings or secret exchanges. His observations of things are always somewhat superficial and bewildered.

The scenes describing the fledgling flights are interesting and Latham’s struggles are heroic. But much of the book is bogged down in long passages where nothing really happens. One of the observers, César, a friend of Latham’s, is given to lengthy philosophical musing. The scenes between Latham and Antoinette are murky and strained. Potato’s guilelessness works to introduce him to this group, but as the story progresses, his presence distracts from the action. Overall, the story has great potential but is so diffused that the pace slowed to a crawl and the plot fizzled to its end.

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