Accabadora by Michela Murgia and Silvester Mazzarella (Translator)

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Accabadora by Michela Murgia and Silvester Mazzarella (Translator)

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: The step-mother has a very controversial role within her local community and when the cat's let out of the bag, there's havoc.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: September 2011
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-0857050458

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This beautiful, slim volume has won no less than six literary prizes. Murgia paints an early and evocative picture of the young central character, Maria as she makes mud tarts. But this innocent activity is about to come to an abrupt halt. Her birth mother struggles to feed and clothe all her children (Maria is the fourth child and is really a nuisance) so when an opportunity arises which 'solves the problem of Maria' if you like, then she grabs it with both hands. Maria is quickly and rather unceremoniously adopted by an older woman who just happens to be a widow. She has no children of her own and seems to lead a rather lonely, insular life. She is old enough to be a grandmother, let alone a mother. Will she be able to cope with a noisy youngster under her roof? You wonder why she'd want to take in a raggedy child, or any child for that matter, in the first place.

Early on in the novel, Murgia's distinctive style shines. She has a languid (in a good way) feel with her own voice to describe people, places or even inanimate objects. I quickly warmed to both the story and the storyteller. I loved lines such as It was hard to guess Tzia Bonaria's age on those days; ... as though she had suddenly decided for herself to be much older than her calendar years and was now patiently waiting for time to catch up. Simple but very, very effective in my opinion.

The story is set in rural Sardinia back in the 1950s. Perhaps it's not surprising then that the locals could barely sneeze, but word was round the village in record time. Gossip seemed to be a very popular hobby indeed - especially with the women. The rather aloof, enigmatic Bonaria has certainly given her neighbours plenty to gossip about now. But she tries to remain aloof of it all.

Bonaria hopes that Maria will settle well into her new home which is completely different from her old one. Maria took quite a bit of time getting used to living in all that space, never mind having a bedroom all to herself. But is she happy? Does she miss the noisy chatter with her siblings? Murgia tells all in her own good time.

Mother and daughter settle into a domestic routine, of sorts. Maria has learned that Bonaria is a skilled and much sought-after dressmaker and picks up tips and hints. They may come in useful in the future but at the moment, the young Maria has no idea what she wants to do with her life.

Murgia, I have to say, is excellent at giving her readers a taste of that rural, unhurried life. Not a great deal happens, to be honest but that only serves to give Murgia many opportunities to treat us to her lyrical prose about everyday life. And because I found her style captivating, I was captivated by even the simplest of things.

For example, there's quite a lengthy piece devoted to the forthcoming marriage of Maria's older sister, Bonacatta. Both families have arranged to meet but they are all on their best behaviour. You could also cut the atmosphere with a butter knife. The gifts were a sort of votive offering to the supine figure of the Madonna of the Assumption, not so much ornaments as items for barter ...

I found this novel simply enchanting due to Murgia's beautiful style of writing, even although some parts are truly shocking. This is a little gem of a book to be treasured and I fell under Murgia's spell when reading it. The translation is also seamless - you wouldn't guess that it was a translation in the first place. Highly recommended.

If this book appeals then you might like to try The Gypsy Tearoom by Nicky Pellegrino.

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