Malacqua by Nicola Pugliese and Shaun Whiteside (translator)

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Malacqua by Nicola Pugliese and Shaun Whiteside (translator)

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A modernist take on a diseased city, that frustrates in not doing what you want it to do.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 208 Date: November 2017
Publisher: And Other Stories
ISBN: 9781911508069

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We're in Naples, in recent history, and it's raining. It will in fact rain for four days solid – and seeing as it's October everyone's dressed for all seasons and expecting a bit of grey, but this is taking the proverbial. It's also making the city rather dangerous – when people report a huge sink-hole appearing in one street it's soon found that a pair of cars went into it, and two people have died, and more passed on with a whole building collapsing. What's more, some strange noises are coming from an abandoned civic palace. Is the city being told something by these strange events, or can a journalist find a logic behind the circumstances?

I liked this book from the get-go, for it seemed to be a modernist read with an actual plot, and actual strange events to match the unusual approach. If you don't know the style, what I dress as modernist is that twentieth-century literature that features endlessly long paragraphs, multiple-clause sentences that can stretch for pages at a time, and so on. This seems to have that, although not to such extremes, AND it has the most unusual – troupes of people forced to investigate what makes the noises emanating from the derelict building, and so on.

But I cheated there – I should say I liked this book at the get-go, for before the end it had long fallen out of favour. I wanted the intrigue about the city to be sustained, and for the bizarre things to escalate, or at least to receive a standard narrative. I wanted there to be fewer branches off to other characters that would pop their heads up above the parapets, only to do their thing and disappear with no consequences. And by the end, the modernist worst has hit us, as a man spends about fifty pages having a shave.

There's another thing that the book is not, and if you know the cinema of Pasolini you'll get the reference. This is certainly not one of his scathing Italian reports on how awful Italy is. The city here certainly seems to be giving humans a rum time, but there's no moral here as to how or why. The cover quote, from Calvino – this is a book with a meaning and a force and a message didn't ring true for me. Yes, there is yet another oddity about the place here that made me think of Calvino's Invisible Cities, but there's no comparison. And with the added modernism, with the style getting stronger and stronger, and without Pasolini's sacrilegious dismissal of all that makes Italy great, the book both spoke too much to the original local audience and didn't give me as strong a picture of the place as I expected. Added to all that, the author got instant reward from this book being a huge success in the 1970s, only to demand it be withdrawn from print, and it has stayed out of the public eye since. That suggests something acerbic or embarrassing, neither of which this is. I have to declare this an initially intriguing misfire, and assume that either it spoke only to the Neapolitan, or has had its cutting edge washed away over the decades.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy. Shaun Whiteside also translated The Kingdom of Light by Giulio Leoni.

Falling Palace by Dan Hofstader is for lovers of Naples – and, in fact, just for lovers.

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Buy Malacqua by Nicola Pugliese and Shaun Whiteside (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Malacqua by Nicola Pugliese and Shaun Whiteside (translator) at


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