Although I’ve watched every episode of both “Inspector Montalbano” and “Young Montalbano” shown over here on BBC4 I’ve never read any of the books on which they are based. This is the first in the sequence published in the UK in 2003. Those of you who want to be strictly chronological may wish to start with Camilleri’s 2013 collection “Montalbano’s First Case & Other Stories” but I’m going with the order by publication date.
So far Camilleri has produced twenty of these Italian bestsellers up to 2016’s “A Voice In The Night”with the next two scheduled (“A Nest Of Vipers” is due to be published in August 2017) so I have a fair bit of catching up to do. I did find myself remembering the TV adaptation quite well as I was reading this (I’m usually a bit of a stickler for reading the book first) and I couldn’t get Luca Zingaretti’s portrayal of the Inspector out of my head.
Plotwise, a local notable is found dead in his car at a known cruising ground, partially clad and having recently had a good time. It’s believed to be a fairly scandalous natural causes heart attack but Montalbano thinks differently. On the same site a valuable necklace is found by two waste disposal men and there is obviously some link between the jewellery and the dead man. Despite some rather tortuous long sentences at the beginning of the novel this settles into a quick and relatively easy read. The glory of Sicily does not come across, obviously, as well as it does on the television but here, in this translation by Stephen Saratelli you don’t need to read the subtitles. Once you’re drawn into the Italian way of complex local political manoeuvrings and a different kind of logic and Camilleri writing more than you’d expect with tongue firmly in cheek this provides a very satisfactory introduction to these quirky crime capers. At times I could feel the influence of prolific French author Georges Simenon (Camilleri worked on a TV production of “Maigret” before embarking on his writing career) and that’s certainly no bad thing.
The Shape Of Water was published by Picador in 2003
This tale of Sardinia in the early years of the twentieth century was written by a notable Italian jurist who had grown up in the town of Nuoro, the isolated setting for his novel. Satta had abandoned fiction writing in his youth yet began this largely autobiographical work when he was nearly 70 and on his death it was found unfinished amongst his papers. Published in Italy four years later in 1979 it became a literary bestseller and Apollo believes it deserves a wider audience in this translation by Patrick Creagh.
Don Sebastiano is a notary with seven academic sons and a housebound wife. He is devoted to his work producing legal documentation for the people of Nuoro. There is a large cast of characters, many who appear fleetingly in the narrator’s anecdotes, reviewing the past of this town where change occurs reluctantly, where some still wear traditional costume and to leave suggests the vain hope of looking “for bread made from better things than wheat.” In this highly conservative environment it is the times of change that made the most impact on me, the arrival of electric lights, the sons’ discoveries of world literature and the effects of World War I which forced the young to leave and brought back outsiders and those returning with a different set of experiences which upsets the balance of the town. Even these momentous events are dealt with fleetingly in the course of a shifting narrative which requires considerable concentration. At times I just wanted Satta to linger on certain characters and events to realise their full potential which could have given the novel the greatness it just misses out on. We are, of course, not reading his finished manuscript and had he been granted more time to polish this might have been achieved.
This is a novel of many magical moments which do not quite come together as a whole. It is also rather sombre in tone, when there are moments of hope they are often trampled upon. To leave Nuoro rarely provides the escape anticipated. One man who comes into an inheritance discovers; “Swallows leave their nests because God urges them to, but the man who leaves his home is egged on by the devil.” For him, all ends tragically.
The location (I know little about Sardinia) comes across vividly, the importance of wine to the region is brought to life in some lovely sections, its production provides variety and uncertainty in lives which see little change. The days of a town steeped in tradition are numbered by the early twentieth century and this comes across strongly.
This novel is the third I have reviewed from the newly launched Apollo Classics taglined “the best books you have never read”. The others are “Now In November” and “The Man Who Loved Children“.
The Day Of Judgement was published by Apollo in 2016