Premise: Bart Zacharin is an Australian photographer whose life is turned upside-down while sitting outside a cafe when the building collapses and a woman he doesn’t know almost dies. Minnie Cuff is intriguing and mysterious, and Bart follows her around Europe to get to know her. His biggest problem is she is aloof and her attention is fleeting.
Minnie claims to be a computer programmer, but Bart soon learns that there is more to her that she isn’t telling him. They discover there is a man following them wherever they go, perhaps after the secret package she is carrying. When it turns physical, both with fighting the man following them and with Minnie in the bedroom, Bart must decide how deep he is willing to go to pursue a meaningful relationship with Minnie.
While chasing Minnie around Europe, Bart learns that his father who he hadn’t known his entire life has died. Bart’s father was in Malta, where he met a woman who he lived with after leaving his family behind years ago. From the dozens of journals that his father wrote, Bart learns about this man, including that he was also a photographer like himself. If only Minnie could be as open a book as his dead father.
Themes: Camera Obscura is as much a whodunnit art theft mystery as it is a mystery about people on a personal level. Even when we think we know somebody, we sometimes learn new things that shatter our beliefs about them. After believing that his father was either dead or left his family at a young age, Bart learns more about his father as a person and grows fonder about him. Bart also learns more and more about Minnie that only brings him to the realization that he really doesn’t know her at all.
Bart’s interest in Minnie is apparent from the moment he sees her in that cafe. She is nothing like his girlfriend and everything about her makes him want her more. Trusting in her actions goes hand in hand with her intrigue, and we are given the opportunity to learn the difference between love and infatuation.
Camera Obscura is also a story about the impact a father has on a person’s life, for better or worse. Bart learns about his father, who left him and his mother when he was a child, through journals he wrote later in life. We also begin to learn how much influence a father has on his children, and to what extent those children will go to make their father proud.
Pros: Rosanne Dingli either has a lot of knowledge about art and collecting or she did her research because this book is packed full of painters, camera types, composers, stamps, and European architecture. It was like I was being taught about the subject as I was reading. Camera Obscura really hits its stride in the second half of the novel, as Bart finds his father’s respite in Malta and the woman he lived with in his last years.
Cons: About halfway through reading Camera Obscura I started getting bored with Minnie’s constant disappearing and reappearing. She became so unlikeable I wanted her to lose and didn’t care about her anymore. At times Bart agonized in his worrying about what to do, and it became agonizing for me to have to read so much of it. Probably some of the comings and goings of Minnie could have been left out.
Recommendations: Though I struggled around the midpoint of the novel, I am glad I powered through and kept reading. Some new themes opened up that made Camera Obscura more meaningful and quite profound. The ending was somewhat unexpected, though my suspicions about Minnie were verified in not liking her. I suppose that’s why the title is appropriate in that what is shown isn’t necessarily reality. Camera Obscura moves quickly at times and slows to a crawl at others, though it is a solid mystery by someone who put a lot of thought into researching the subject. Give it a go if you like your mysteries mixed with art and romance.