LOATHING, JEALOUSY, ABANDONMENT:

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THE ‘HAPPILY EVER AFTER’ DOES NOT LIVE IN ITALIAN LITERATURE

 

 

 

 

THE BETROTHED (1840) Alessandro Manzoni Renzo & Lucia? Without doubt the most famous couple of Italian literature. “The Betrothed” is the story of two lovers – both poor and honest – kept apart by a lustful and corrupt Spanish nobleman. “Questo matrimonio non s’ha da fare” (‘this marriage is not to be performed’) is still a popular expression – used ironically – in the Italian language. After endless misadventures the couple will be reunited and finally married, ready for a fresh start. Manzoni – one of Italian culture’s patriarchs – wrote the first Italian historical novel inspired by the Scottish Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

THE ZENO’S CONSCIENCE (1923) Italo Svevo Described by James Joyce as one of the 20th century masterpieces, “The Zeno’s Conscience” is one of the first novels about psychotherapy. Italo Svevo – aka Ettore Smith – wrote a journal of his character, Cosini, – undergoing psychoanalysis. Family? It was a real source of trouble for him. He recalled his father’s death, his marriage and his betrayal with searing honesty. The story of his marriage is probably the best one: he ended up marrying a woman he vowed never to take and, unexpectedly, this took him to a sort of happiness. An Italian Proust? Many would think so. Surely, this is simply an honest portrait   of a man complete with all his contradictions and obsessions.

“Forget the stereotyped image of the patriarchal and large Italian family: it is just an old memory. Divorce, co-habitation and single parenthood have changed the structure of the family. However, it is undeniable that family is still a true force in the Italian peninsula and an endless source of inspiration for writers of all centuries.”

THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT (2002) Elena Ferrante Narrated by a woman, like almost all Ferrante’s novels, this novel attacks bourgeois beliefs and illusions. The protagonist, Olga, is thirty-eight, married to Mario and has two young children: a perfect, wealthy family, apparently. However, one day everything changes in her life – the day Mario announces he is leaving her for another woman. The family unit is broken and Olga seems to lose her identity too. What is her existence without her man? Loathing, jealousy, despair – an abyss is facing her. At the end Olga will find a new way to exist, maybe less glamorous but surely more authentic.

GOMORRAH (2006) Roberto Saviano The Camorra (Naples’ name for the mafia) is sadly still one of the most powerful families in Italy and in the world. Gomorrah was a major bestseller in Italy, later an astonishing movie by Garrone and more recently a must-see TV series. Saviano wrote this non-fiction work to depict the decline of his city under the rules of the Camorra. Murders, shootings, drugs, illegal international commerce: the glamour of The Godfather is not part of this story. Saviano shows to the world a true horror story, where family is a key word, even if most of the time that means the death of its own children.

THE POTTER’S FIELD (2008) Andrea Camilleri This is the thirteenth of Andrea Camilleri’s Italian detective stories to be translated into English. Montalbano is a fictional detective like no other, and in “The Potter’s Field” is at his best. Here, he has to fight to defend the integrity of his office, which is threatened by a beautiful and sinister woman. The novel is more than a crime novel; it is a meditation on the mafia and on betrayal. Lies, deceit and duplicity are at the heart of some of the finest literary families, and this is no exception. It is not surprising that the Italian TV adaptation – full of idyllic settings and loud Mediterranean people –  has now become a success on BBC Four.