October 13, 2011

Commissario Montalbano’s file

Hersilia Press @ 4:01 pm

I am reading the first three Montalbano novels in Italian, published as a trilogy with a preface by Camilleri himself. I don’t think the preface has ever been translated into English and it has a few very interesting points on the history of Montalbano so am reporting them here!

Camilleri started a “historical” novel in 1993 which was published much later (Il birraio di Preston, – The brewer of Preston – not yet translated into English) by Sellerio and realised that his method of writing was non-linear (as I expect it is for many other writers). Therefore he challenged himself to write a novel in a linear way, starting from the first chapter and ending with the last. He also found a piece of writing by Leonardo Sciascia, the author of The day of the Owl , called La semplice arte del delitto about writing crime fiction, and a writing by Italo Calvino maintaining that it would be impossible to set a crime fiction story in Sicily. Camilleri then took a double bet, with himself and the unaware Calvino, and decided to write a crime fiction book set in Sicily.

He chose to have a police Commissario as a protagonist to free him from some ‘obligations’ he would have in the Carabinieri (which is a military corp, while the police, to which Montalbano belongs, is of course civilian).

Having decided the genre and the protagonist, Camilleri had two possible names in mind: Cecè Collura or Salvo Montalbano, both common in Sicily. He opted for the latter in homage to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, his The Pianist was the inspiration for the structure of The Brewer of Preston.

Camilleri started to write the first Montalbano book, The Shape of Water, following his self-imposed rules, with the first chapter opening at dawn (and so do all the following books). After publishing the book, which he thought was going to be the only one, he then felt that the role of Montalbano as an investigator had been given too much space in the novel, to the detriment of his personality, and to make amends decided to write a second novel, The Terracotta Dog.

While in The Shape of Water the dawn is seen by two refuse collectors, in The Terracotta Dog it’s seen by Montalbano himself and from that point onwards the point of view changes to Montalbano being the omniscient narrator: the reader has the same elements of the story that Montalbano has, and no additional knowledge.

Camilleri confesses to having heard many authors claiming to be obsessed by their characters and not really believing them, however he now confesses to having fallen into this trap: let’s hope it means many more Montalbano novels to come…

October 4, 2011

L’uomo nero e la bicicletta blu di Eraldo Baldini

Hersilia Press @ 10:04 pm

L'uomo nero e la bicicletta bluL’uomo nero e la bicicletta blu by Eraldo Baldini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sono cresciuta in città (Bologna) ma mio padre è nato e cresciuto in provincia, che ai suoi tempi era come aperta campagna. Ho sentito storie di finestre gelate all’interno, e mi ricordo gite da cugini che vivevano in campagna, dove si giocava nel fienile e si correva dietro alle galline.

Questo libro è la storia di un bambino, Gigi, cresciuto nei primi anni Sessanta nella Pianura Padana, in un paese di campagna dove tutti i pochi abitanti si conoscevano. La sua famiglia, composta dal babbo lavoratore mercante di animali, la mamma che riesce sempre a sistemare situazioni difficili, un fratello molto più furbo di lui, e un nonno che ne ha passate di cotte e di crude, non è abbiente ma la situazione diventa ancora più difficile a causa della condizioni economiche dell’intero paese. Gigi sta risparmiando e cercando di mettere da parte qualche soldino per comprarsi una bellissima bici blu che ha visto in una vetrina, sapendo che la sua famiglia non se la potrà mai permettere. Diventa amico di una bambina della sua età che si è trasferita da poco dalla città, e trova in lei un’amica vera con cui condividere i giri in bicicletta e la cattura delle rane.

Il libro ha aspetti sia di Bar sport e di Don Camillo, descrive in maniera impeccabile le campagne e la vita povera degli anni Sessanta, e i personaggi e gli avvenimenti rispecchiano l’ingenuità e la innata saggezza di un bambino di dieci anni. La prima metà del libro mi ha fatto ridere di gusto, tanto le situazioni (non poi così improbabili) sono descritte con ironia e semplicità. Nella seconda metà il libro cambia decisamente tono, e fa apparire aspetti diversi e inquietanti della situazione.

Mi è piaciuta moltissimo questa storia, che riesce a utilizzare parole semi-dialettali come cavedagna e sfrucugliare che non credo possano essere rese in alcun altro modo. Il linguaggio semplice, diretto e quasi scarno è una ventata di freschezza e rispecchia le situazioni ed emozioni descritte.

Il cambiamento di tono riflette la vicenda, che anche se per la maggior parte narrata dal punto di vista di Gigi bambino, è un flashback, e viene narrata con la consapevolezza di un adulto.

Se questo è un romanzo ‘letterario’, sono decisamente curiosa di leggere le storie noir di Eraldo Baldini.

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Event: Gianrico Carofiglio in London

Hersilia Press @ 2:43 pm

On 26 September I attended the presentation of Gianrico Carofiglio’s Temporary Perfections at Foyle’s bookshop, brilliantly organised by Bitter Lemon Press.

Carofiglio is a former anti-mafia judge and now a member of the Senate, and was in conversation with Marcel Berlin and Paul Blezard. His books have been translated into 24 languages including Swahili, which Gianrico confirmed, with a smile on his face, he carefully reads and checks all!

The discussion kicked off with a question about building a relation of trust between the translator and the author. Gianrico commented that translators have different ways of working: some contact him via email or phone, but some never contacted him, which surely makes it more difficult to iron out any doubts and problems a translator might have.

Gianrico is the only Italian exponent of the “legal thriller” (he remarked that he had once been introduced as “one of the most important legal thriller writers”, saying it’s not difficult when there’s only one of them!), where the protagonist is not a cop or a detective. Marcel Berlin remarked that Italian fiction is usually very noir: how come Gianrico decided to write in this genre? When he started to write his first book, Involuntary Witness, he didn’t know it was going to be a thriller, he just wrote the story. Gianrico says that the same book can be read in different ways or from different points of view, for example at an event one reader commented that she read the book as a love story: and this is still fine, because there are many stories woven into the book.

Marcel said that on average there is more political content in Italian books, however Gianrico says he doesn’t write about what he’s too close to: in fiction you shouldn’t decide in advance what politics you’re going to write about. According to Margaret Atwood [paraphrasing Virginia Woolf], writing is like being in a dark room where the writer finds his or her way around it until the process comes to an end at the exit of the room itself.

Gianrico, like many writers, reinforced the idea of writing fiction as a necessity and says: “I know I have a story when I have a situation”. Writing a novel is also making a deal with the reader, with a promise at the beginning, which is as important as the end. However, starting to write is actually very scary, and that’s why he started so late (in his forties), but the piece of advice he would have for novice writers is “begin tonight”, don’t find excuses.

Marcel then asked about Italian noir more in general, since in his opinion it’s quite concentrated on corruption, on ‘gangsterland’: for example, non-Italian authors of books set in Italy, like Donna Leon and Michael Dibdin, who write books that are more detective stories, are they well known in Italy? Gianrico says that Leon doesn’t want to be translated in Italian, while Dibdin is not very well known.

Gianrico also says that the duties of a writer are to be honest and reduce the necessary suspension of disbelief to a minimum, do appropriate research and be accurate. So he writes what he likes to write about: people and characters. Every character has a back story, Gianrico says his writing is character-centred rather than plot centred: he uses the plot to talk about things he’s interested in. He likes writing ‘subplots’, what’s happening on the side of the main story. He says “It’s fun to write biographies of characters”.

Marcel and Paul then want to know how his books are received by Italian lawyers and Gianrico says they love them: he runs legal writing workshops and he says people come because of his fiction, not because of his legal writing! He is also asked often how autobiographical Guerrieri is: he admits initially he was saying Guerrieri wasn’t then realised this was creating a bit of an aura around him and, again with a smile on his face, “became much more flexible.”

Finally, Gianrico is asked what kind of books he likes to read: Lawrence Block, the early RJ Ellory, not so many Italian writers. Grisham, Connolly, Thurow he finds very plot-driven and with not enough depth to their characters.

Does he intend to carry on writing books on Guerrieri, asks Marcel: yes, although his next book is not in the Guerrieri series. Gianrico likes the idea of an “open mega-novel” where each book is like a chapter, he writes a new novel when something happens and something is changing. He reminds the atendees of the Lao Tze quote at the beginning of Involuntary Witness “What the caterpillar thinks is the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly”: this is what he’s interested in writing about. And he shares with Guerrieri the motto of “never feel too comfortable”.