My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

When I was seven my father disowned his family. It was, he explained at the time, because he did not want us to be raised in the culture of violence and ignorance that made his family what it was. Although from the stories I heard from him, I had some picture in my mind of what that meant, it was really only upon reading this series that I have a clear sense of what we escaped. In fact, my father’s family is Calabrian from the area where John Paul Getty III was held after being kidnapped. Far more violent than the pussy Neapolitans.

So, on a personal level what I got from this was an inkling of what my life might have been like, had my father not made that decision. The culture is violent, the people, all relationships on all levels. The language is not violent, it is violence. That is the purpose of dialect, to express violence and threats and anger and powerlessness and vitriol and abuse.  It is a weapon. Having read these books and lived through the sometimes terrifying behaviour of my father I wonder whether it is learned or genetic. I do so hope it isn’t something I can’t undo in me.

I felt part Elena so often I stopped counting. Not just because my father, despite his best intentions, could not save us entirely from this life because he could not save us from himself, but for so many decisions she made as a child, growing up, and then as an adult. It’s an excruciatingly painful business, watching a person in a book do incredibly idiotic things as she does in her personal relationships all the time, knowing that one has done them all with no better capacity to explain than this series does.  How could she have got involved with Nino, even as a teenager, let alone as an adult. The only thing that makes me realise that it is permissible within the constraints of the book is that I’ve done the same stupid, stupid things.

I was unable to put down the first volume until I’d finished it. The most fantastic end to a book I’ve ever read by the way, and endings are impossibly hard to do. Two weeks in Melbourne, back to Adelaide and I discover that there is one shop where I can buy them. Imprints Booksellers, thank you! I bought the other three volumes and read them back to back over the course of a week. Does one need a review after that statement? A friend in Melbourne who is an Italian literature academic started reading the first and called up uni to say she wouldn’t be in that week. Unputdownable does not in the slightest exaggerate the effect of these.

Peter at East Avenue Books put me onto this series. It’s a secondhand bookshop in Clarence Park specialising in literature – if you live in Adelaide you must go there!








And then you die by Michael Dibden

I’m woefully behind with recording my latest reading. The last few days I’ve zipped through another Michael Dibdin I happened upon at the book market near here. I keep thinking I must have read all the Zen books, but not only had this one been avoiding me, I find I must also have missed the one before it. I say that because I’m sure this one would have made more sense if I’d slotted it into the correct order. It’s an odd book, the structure and storyline being somewhere between idiosyncratic and inadequate. I wish to veer towards the former, simply because it has that easy style that makes this series so attractive, not mention, Zen is a character of whom one never tires. However harshly this book may be criticised, I say it’s definitely worth reading if you like Zen. And how could you not?

Medusa by Michael Dibdin

It seems to me that in general one expects living authors to run out of words before breath – entirely unreasonable, I know, but there it is. Dibdin died too early, making this an unexpected treat, an Aurelio Zen I thought I’d read but hadn’t, I realised leafing through it in a bookshop in Australia.

As usual, I love the food details, minor thoughts one files away in brain under cooking. Atrociously ignorant about a country for which I hold a passport, I’ve probably learned as much about Italy from the Zen series as from any other source. Politics, culture, history abound without ever seeming like a substitute for a story.

On top of all that, an antiquarian bookseller has a big part. For what more could one ask?

Carofiglio continued

A bout of flu with a bronchitis chaser saw me struggling with the history of science and such like that I’m trying to focus on at the moment. It was a splendid excuse to knock off the rest of Gianrico Carofiglio’s collection of books featuring Guido Guerrieri:

Involuntary Witness
Reasonable Doubts
Temporary Perfections

It is hard not to be delighted with these. There is always an interesting recipe, one that sends you out in search of ingredients. Guerrieri both boxes and cries, and this is all completely believable. You don’t even think about it while you are reading. Carofiglio is very experienced with the workings of Italian law and this shines through. The stories feel real and indeed there is nothing remotely thriller-like about them. In three of the four in the series of legal procedurals, Guerrieri defends a client without solving the case. This in itself is unexpected – one assumes that the defence is going to be based on identifying the real culprit and yet this path is never taken.

I unreservedly recommend these and finish with a nice episode from Temporary Perfections. Guerrieri has a strong imagination, he is often in a world removed from the one around him. Having been asked in this story to do something out of his experience, to be a private investigator, it sends him into a reverie of fictional investigators and what they might do – Guerrieri’s friends are his punching bag and books, he is quite a loner.

As I walked out onto the street, with a studied gesture I pulled up the collar of my raincoat, even though there was no reason to do so.

People who read too much often do things that are completely unnecessary.

A Walk in the Dark by Gianrico Carofiglio

One of several books I bought speculatively at OffTheShelf in Geneva recently in their bargain area. And indeed it was. Five CHF for a splendid legal procedural set in Bari, southern Italy. Not only a great read, but I seem to have acquired a new Italian ingredient, botargo, and a recipe for it. What more could one expect from a book?!