I agree with most of what the reader from Buffalo says about this book: "Poorly written, haphazardly organized and indifferently edited, Gaudi is painful to read and does very little to improve ones understanding of the subject."
The book IS painful to read, if you love the English language. On the other hand, if you are able to laugh about bad writing, there are quite a few chuckles in the book. For example, van Hensbergen tells us about Graner's demon automaton in his cinema threatening customers with death, and comments: "This was rounded off by realising, after queuing patiently for one of the two ticket booths, that the usher was a dummy." I love the shift from the passive "was rounded off," which points to Graner's plan, to the ticket-buyer's active-voice subjectivity in "realising." Grammatically, of course, it's garbage. Imagistically, though, it's a kind of inspired madness not unlike the idea of a demon automaton itself.
Van Hensbergen's inadequate command of English grammar provides a constant source of humor. "This was the first time a nation - Catalonia - had connected into the history of a much wider Western culture." He means, of course, that it was the first time Catalonia had connected with that history, a broad but at least defensible claim; but of course what he says is that it was the first time a NATION had done so, which is just plain funny.
Here's another one that I love: "Built up in the Colserolla foothills on the slopes of Mont Tibidabo, Gaudi looked to the mediaeval Christian fort and the Moorish fortified hisn complex of Al-Andalus for his inspiration." I KNEW Gaudi wasn't born, but fashioned out of pipe cleaners and lizard scales, up on the slopes of Tibidabo! Van Hensbergen apparently believes that it's enough to mention the actual referent of "built" in the previous sentence: Bellesguard.
But my all-time favorite comes in the third line of the book: "Gaudi, Barcelona and Catalonia were, and still are, eternally intertwined." For sheer malapropist grace, that one is hard to beat. He means "integrally intertwined," of course. He just doesn't care enough about words to notice that "eternally" and "were, and still are" are mutually exclusive. But look at the economy of that oxymoron! The verbs give us the localized temporal reference, which is contradicted by the universalized adverb. And look at the cumulative effect of the verbs: WERE (and are no longer), and STILL ARE (for a while). He could have written "have always been eternally intertwined," but he didn't. It would have been much less powerful that way. The book isn't just badly written. Here and there it reveals a ubiquitous FLAIR for bad writing. (See, I tried to replicate van Hensbergen's oxymoron with spatial reference, and didn't do it nearly as well!)
The fair thing to say about van Hensbergen's atrocious writing is that he's Dutch, so give him a break. YOU try and write a book in a foreign language, Mr. Reader from Buffalo, see how far YOU get! The real culprits here are the editorial staff at HarperCollins. This isn't exactly a fly-by-night publishing operation. They should hire copyeditors to fix the kind of absurdities van Hensbergen's book is full of. But they're so busy saving money that they don't care. The book reads like van Hensbergen's first draft -- as if nobody else ever looked at it before it was typeset.
Still, I have to disagree with the reader from Buffalo on the book's ultimate value. True, we need more books on Gaudi. But this one is still useful, especially for someone like me who is planning a novel on Gaudi. Every other book available on Gaudi in English is 200 color plates and a brief and fairly pious biography; van Hensbergen has done an enormous amount of research into Gaudi's LIFE. And yes, you have to laugh or grit your teeth at the bad English, but it is pure unadulterated Romantic genius-worship to claim with the Buffalo reader that "an understanding of Catalanism with its piety, spiritualism, chauvinist patriotism and family values," while "helpful to understanding Gaudi's life," is "not essential to appreciating his work. Antoni Gaudi was a genius. Works of genius communicate themselves. That is all you really need to know admire and love Gaudi's designs."
If you are determined to treat Gaudi as an untouchable genius whose life is irrelevant to his work, don't read this book. If you kind of enjoy discovering that artistic geniuses are actually human, and fallible, and not a little neurotic, and if you aren't too fastidious with the English language, it's well worth the read.