Compelling conflicts and intrigue, centering around computer hacking and art theft, balance the romantic interest of the book--but it is the incandescent pleasure of sunlight illuminating the island and people of Malta that made this novel memorable, descriptions of "the rubble walls, carob trees, vines and climbers spilling over the tops of walls that evidently concealed small gardens."
The island becomes a significant presence, providing an alternative to the frenetic pace of life captured at the beginning of the novel. Malta is timeless earth-stability, the alternative. "There was a terraced tessellation of fields below, each bounded by a long serpentine limestone wall, which stretched for some of the way beneath their hotel window. There was limestone everywhere: flat-topped houses ahead, spires and belfries of churches that pinned the landscape in place under scudding clouds."
The main character, Australian photographer Bart Zacharin, was a challenge for me at the beginning of the novel--a self-absorbed individual with issues stemming from his growing up, a guy who makes the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. Following his attraction to the mysterious Minnie Cuff, he travels from Australia to France to Malta, seeking self-knowledge, understanding, and love. The novel's action and Zacharin's journey to Malta are, in a sense, the man's journey to his own potential.
It is on Malta where he finds himself and resolves many of his issues. It is the healing effects of the island and its people that provided the incentive to continue reading and to learn to appreciate Zacharin. I'm glad I stuck with it.
Minor characters on Malta--his father's lover, a painter, a gardener/medical doctor, a chief of police--were, for me, among the most interesting aspects of the novel. Their influence on Zacharin create a dynamic, along with the physical island's influence, that allowed an appreciation of Zacharin's quest.
Here is a bit about Stella De Cortis, Zacharin's father's life-long love: "Suddenly, looking at her in her huge house with its walls like ramparts, her garden that was scented with Mediterranean blooms, he felt what his father must have felt there. Sanctuary: peace. She was the embodiment of comfort, of affection, without artifice or rancour, and had taken Charles [the father] on trust, not demanding for a minute that he change or mutate to her demands. If only everyone were that accepting and that trustful."
Malta provides a blend of antiquity and the contemporary, and it is in Malta that Zacharin learns about the father who abandoned him, where he begins to make decisions about his life rather than just reacting to the stimuli of the environment about him. The ancient island that is also modern--cameras and the reality of the image, his father's journals and the reality of the words, his father's contemporaries and their gentle suggestions--Dingli's Camera Obscura is the journey of an unformed, dependent personality trudging to self-actualization. It is a well-formed blend of thrilling action and suspense with character development.
I've read other works by Rosanne Dingli and expected a well-written novel that was fulfilling on several levels. I wasn't disappointed. If, like me, you find Bart Zacharin a dull boy at the beginning, stick with it. Forgive the caterpillar and celebrate the butterfly. It is the caterpillar which makes the latter butterfly so much more significant.
Copyright 2012 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved