Review: The Dance of the Seagull – Andrea Camilleri

seagullI apologise that my email notification system is not working very well at the moment. While some subscribers are receiving emails for every post, some are receiving none. I have tried and failed to resolve this problem and am in the process of installing a new system to which I have to transfer all the addresses. I hope to have this working next week.

I’ve only discovered Andrea Camilleri three months ago, and considering this is now the 15th English volume in his Inspector Montelbano’s series of police procedural novels, I have a lot of catching up to do. I reviewed the 14th book in the series in December and I have a combined volume of the first three novels on my Kindle  just in case I ever find myself marooned on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean (unlikely).

Andrea Camilleri is now 87 years old and he is a wonderful example of what can be achieved if you just carry on working into old age, for The Dance of the Seagull is a cut above any other crime novel I’ve read this year, showing a mind that is as agile as any younger writer.  British crime novelist P D James is now 92 years old and shows a similar ability to keep churning out high quality books.  When it comes to sheer persistence perhaps the “very oldies” have something to teach us.

The great Inspector Montelbano is now 57 years old and is worrying about his age.  He wakes at five thirty every morning and stares at the ceiling, bemoaning an earlier time when he slept through in one stretch.  He has a much younger girl-friend and is keen to show her that he still has many of the attributes of a much younger man, but in reality, it is a bit of a struggle to keep up the pretence.

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Review: A Private Venus – Georgio Scerbanenco

private venusI’m writing this week about two examples of “Noir” crime fiction.  On Monday I featured Severe by French writer Régis Jauffret.  Today my featured book is an example of Italian Noir, A Private Venus by Giorgio Scerbanenco published by Italian crime fiction specialists, Hersilia Press.  Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) is described in the introduction as “the father of the Italian noir tradtion”.

As well as being a successful magazine editor, Giorgio Scerbanenco was a writer of novels, more prolific than Georges Simenon.  In the introduction to A Private Venus, Giuliana Pieri says that Scerbanenco pushed Italian novel writing “towards a new realism and, to borrow a metaphor from the other single most important influence on this genre, gave it the rapid rhythm of a nouvelle vague film which conveyed, on a linguistic and syntactic level, the frenetic pace of the industrialised world and the frenzied tempo of consumer society”.

A Private Venus was first published in 1966. It is set in Milan, a city which, in his novels, Scerbanenco almost created as a capital of crime to rival New York and Los Angeles. As the book opens we meet Duca Lamberti, a doctor newly released from prison having served three years for practising euthanasia on an elderly patient who was begging him to end her life.

Lamberti was struck off the doctor’s register because of his crime and needs to find a job.  Through an old contact in the police he is referred to a wealthy plastics engineer, Pietro Auseri who is looking for someone to cure his son of chronic alcoholism.  The engineer has tried everything to cure his son, including physical violence, but now;

. . .  I’d like to make one last attempt,’ Auseri said, ‘put him together with someone who could be both a friend and a doctor, who’d use any method he wanted to make him stop drinking, who’d stop him physically every minute of the day, even in the toilet. I don’t care if it takes a year, or what means he uses, he could even beat him to death, I’d rather he was dead than an alcoholic.

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Review: New Finnish Grammar – Diego Marani

new finnish grammarThe subdued art-work on the cover matches the plain title of this book, but first impressions in a book-shop can be safely ignored – Diego Marani’s New Finnish Grammar is a very inventive and unusual book, which I would place in my top two books read this year.

The book opens in Trieste in September 1943 when a sailor wakes from a coma in a German hospital-ship moored in the port of Trieste.  He is heavily wounded and does not know who he is or what happened to him.  Red Cross nurses attend to him and a doctor appears from time to time to shine a light into his eyes and to try to obtain some information about what happened to him.

The doctor’s new patient has no documents or anything else that can identify him and when he regains consciousness we learn that he has lost his memory and cannot even remember what language he speaks.

One morning Doctor Friari arrives with a bundle under his arm.  He unwraps his parcel to reveal a Finnish sailor’s jacket with the name Sampo Karjalainen on a cotton label inside the collar.  In one of the pockets is a handkerchief with the initials S.K. embroidered on it.  The doctor speaks the name and shows the unknown soldier the handkerchief in the hope that it will reawaken memories.  The doctor himself is Finnish and begins to speak his native language but the patient shows no response other than mild bewilderment.
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Review: The Age of Doubt – Andrea Camillieri

Age of Doubt

I’m new to Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series of books.  The Age of Doubt is number 14 so I have a lot of catching up to do.  A bit of research on Andrea Camilleri showed me that he (yes, Andrea is a man not a woman) is now 87 years old and wrote his first Montalbano book in 1994, The Shape of Water.

In The Age of Doubt we find Inspector Montalbano dealing with a badly disfigured body found at sea and brought into Vigàta harbour by a large luxury yacht owned by the mysterious Livia Giovannini.

The book opens with Montalbano having a chance encounter in a traffic jam with a strange young woman who he rescues when her car is on the verge of tipping over into a flooded channel.  He takes her back to the police station while she waits to have her car recovered and hears that she is heading out to meet the very yacht which has brought in the body.

Before long, Montalbano finds himself deeply involved in investigating the phenomenally wealthy yacht owner and her crew.  Is the body linked to them in some way?  Why does the yacht spend so much time at sea, travelling around Africa and Europe?  Why has the woman he rescued from the car now disappeared?

On the way, Montalbano finds himself dealing with a beautiful young harbour official, Lieutenant Belladonna. As he works with her to solve the mystery of the yacht he finds that they are getting on remarkably well together – Continue reading

Review: How I Lost the War – Fillipo Bologna

A new novel from Pushkin Press is always welcome and How I Lost The War proved to be as expected, a witty but thought-provoking read with bags of Italian flavour to transport readers into fragrant Tuscan summers – but this is no rural idyll, for it is about to be transformed by powerful forces of commerce and development.

We find ourselves steeped in the life of a village, once renowned for its thermal baths, where Federico, the guardian of his family’s castle, find themselves at the centre of a battle to resist a scheme of brutal modernisation.  Ottone Gaddai, an all-for-profit businessman arrives with grandiose plans to revive the spar.  Gaddai has no problem ingratiating himself with the local mayor for as everywhere, money talks, and Gaddai has plenty of it to fling around.

The first act of the new regime is to rejuvenate the village square, cutting down the ancient acacia trees and replacing them with flimsy limes.  Ancient flag stones are taken away and in their place, machine cut aggregate slabs are laid.  Workmen remove the old travertine benches, “masterfully handcut by local stone-cutters” and install instead modern wood and iron benches.  Finally, a monstrous modernist statue is placed in the centre of the square, description of which defies language – “the melted ice-cream”, “the tapir”, “the intestine” all quite failing to describe the crouching copper-coloured figure with “a bronze pipe coiled around itself like a pipe or siphon”.

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Review: The Leopard – Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Every so often one comes across a book which makes you feel that you should have known about this years ago, that one’s literary education was incomplete before you read it.  Lampedusa’s The Leopard is one of these.  I suppose its relative obscurity is because, a. Lampedusa only wrote this one novel, and b. it was published after his death.  Nevertheless it is a fine book, which would stand with any of the “classic” novels and also be head and shoulders above much which is published today.

I am not a great one for historical fiction, and the theme of this one (the decline of the Sicilian nobility after the unification of Italy in the late 19th century) would normally leave me cold.  However, the book is above all about personalities, and the history is not laboured, and only in a way which enhances the story of the main characters, Don Fabrizio Salina, a minor (though wealthy) Prince, and his family members.

Fabrizio is baronial in his behaviour, managing estates and property and employing many servants.  But he is also a philosopher who sees the decline of his class, and accepts the many changes which happen around him.  I knew little of Garibaldi before reading this book, but I now know how this republican leader gallantly led the Italian states to form a new nation.  In this novel we read how Fabrizio adapted to the changing political circumstances and accepted the new regime with a degree of grace.  Fabrizio is basically a kind man, and sees that it is not principles which are at stake, but people, many of whom are dear to him.

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