Distant Light by Antonio Moresco and Richard Dixon (translator)
|Distant Light by Antonio Moresco and Richard Dixon (translator)|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A short piece that feels incomplete, in that it leaves you mentally filling in so many gaps. But what it gives you is certainly rich and compelling enough.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 160||Date: March 2016|
|Publisher: Archipelago Books|
Our unnamed narrator might as well be the only person alive. He knows he's not – he still goes down to the nearest inhabited village to buy things to eat and other necessities, and he sees planes spreading their contrails over the remote area he lives in – but he might as well be. A lot of his thoughts are about life, however, for he has little to do except notice the nature around him, from the smell of lilies burgeoning with nobody else to see them in this deserted village, to the swallows darting across the ravines of the countryside. Life – and the nature of a light that he sees spring into activity every night at what he thought was a totally lifeless, empty forest area on land separated from his lookout post in his back garden by a deep, wooded gorge…
This is one of those books where less is more – the less you know about it, the better. So I can't really begin to discuss the plot of it, for sake of spoiling things. And so I'm left with just mentioning the nature of the lead character – who I assumed to be male throughout, only to find proof in the last chapter. The first thing to mention as regards him is that he is an unreliable narrator – but not in the sense you think. I can't tell quite what to make of him; he seems certainly intelligent and modern at times, but he has ended up (seemingly by choice) living in a falling-down house in a fallen-down village, connected to the electric grid yes but without any other sign of humanity for some time. And it's an earthquake zone. His attitude to this seems quite matter-of-fact, although he does seem to take umbrage against certain aspects of nature. While talking to the wildlife he seems to have a disapproval of the act of life itself – the breeding, maintaining the struggle side of things. Elsewhen he's perfectly respectable and humane.
But he also proves to be unreliable – in cahoots with the author here – in not asking the right questions. Questions about where the food is coming from, for one thing – and again I can't discuss anything else without bringing a house of cards spoiling down around myself. This book, whatever you make of it, will leave anyone with unanswered questions, with multiple frustrations. So why did I like it so much? Well, it might be because I could immediately see the setting, although I took it as around Matera in Italy which isn't wooded enough to be correct, and not in the author's native north. There is a completely immersive feel, regardless of your own travels, in the book, for the narrator, being so in tune with the stones, the nature and the entropy at play in the village, really conveys the life. There's a superlative sense of mystery – when and where are we, who is this man and what his back-story? And how does this fit in with what the author normally gives us?
That isn't a question worth answering in detail, for the riches on the page are enough. It seems perfectly translated by Richard Dixon – certainly I've never read anything with the word vegetal included so many times. The style strikes a balance between literary fiction and general, in that it is accessible to all while maintaining a great artfulness and class. The poise with which secrets are revealed or hidden, the matter-of-fact way the narrative and narrator collude to be so blasé about something quite striking – there is an invention in these short pages that makes me exceedingly grateful people can get books like this translated into English for the likes of me.
For another slightly unusual male lead character prophesying things from birds in flight, the same publishers also carry The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas, Torbjorn Stoverud and Michael Barnes (translators).
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You can read more book reviews or buy Distant Light by Antonio Moresco and Richard Dixon (translator) at Amazon.com.
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