Memory of the Abyss by Marcello Fois

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Memory of the Abyss by Marcello Fois

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: This tale of a Sardinian Ned Kelly has some very interesting flashes, but was a bit too mystical and awkward for me on the whole.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: April 2012
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 9781906694005

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We are on Sardinia, over a hundred years ago. It is a land of legend, where storytellers can see a different nature to the moon each night and convey that in their earthly stories. It's a world of wonder, where sheep can fall from the skies for more than one reason. It's a poor land, where lads are expected to be responsible shepherds by the time they are ten. As a result people look after each other - except, while returning from a Christening Samuele and his father are refused basic hospitality. Later when the boy runs away one night the land falls away beneath him - yet he finds a girl to ground him to this earth. Which is most relevant when he goes to war, and particularly when he comes back and finds himself a wronged man, and in need of vengeance...

We are definitely in the land of magic realism here, with falling sheep, people acting wondrously and a magnetic, religious kind of fate. At the same time Fois gives us the rustic, realistic provinciality that, say, Leonardo Sciascia gave Sicily, or a grittier Pagnol or Giono would give France. Here there is nature, eloquently given, and a lot about the nature of man in it - orders from on high, enemies across the sea, succour underground (in the titular crevasse Samuele finds his girl, and more), curses etched into the soil.

With all this lyricism, however, Fois can be not the easiest read. Here he bends his timeline almost to breaking point, revisiting events from different approaches. The narrator is a multiple one, and while some are in first person, some are third, some present tense and some past, and some get italics while most don't. I'm not sure if some of that was slack editing - certainly the proofreader needed an extra pass of these pages. But his complex, dense approach to what could have been a clearer, crisper legend can prove a little too much like hard work at times.

When it's at its best we get brought to the very doorstep of Fois' characters, partly with the help of some untranslated Sardinian, and the later scenes of the inestimable Samuele and his revenge have an urgency and drive, mostly due to the seemingly flawless, unstoppable, escalating actions of the man. You can only guess what was the truth, what was legend before Fois wrote this take on it, and what he has provided for himself. There are several returning characters to bear in mind while reading - probably too many to be realistic - and to repeat, Fois goes a great way to make their circling back to the story as untidy as possible. But for a flash of Sardinian folklore, and the evocation of it set in the time the Blackshirts were beginning to be worn more and more, there is still some interest among the dense, mystical narrative shenanigans.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

We heartily enjoyed the same publisher's Accabadora by Michela Murgia and Silvester Mazzarella (Translator) - also set on Sardinia in the last century - surely a very obscure niche market for them to take!

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