Archive for October, 2018

The Abbess of Crewe

October 28, 2018

As Muriel Sparks’ twelfth novel, The Abbess of Crewe, begins, Britain is immersed in the “national scandal of the nuns”:

“The motorway from London to Crewe is jammed with reporters”

The scandal bears many intentional, if superficial, resemblances to Watergate, which began in 1972, and finally resulted in Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, the year the novel was published: wire-tapping, for example, is wide-spread in the abbey. Under the instructions of Alexandra, the newly elected Abbess, even the avenue of meditation is listening:

“The trees of course are bugged… How else can we operate now the scandal rages outside the walls?”

Behind this electronic subterfuge, as with Nixon, lies Alexandra’s desire to be elected. When one of her confidantes, Walburga, comments that her rival, Felicity, is at forty-two percent in the polls (typically, the novel retreats in the second chapter to the weeks before the election), she declares:

“It’s quite alarming… seeing that to be the Abbess of Crewe is my destiny.”

In this belief she shares something of the character of Jean Brodie, confusing her own personal wishes with fate. Like Brodie, she is a character both reprehensible and attractive, one it is difficult to feel Spark condemns completely. She believes herself superior with her “fourteen generations of pale and ruling ancestors of England, and ten before them of France, carved into the bones of her wonderful head.”

Felicity, on the other hand, represents a more modern form of Catholicism, roundly dismissed by Alexandra:

“Felicity will never see the point of faith unless it benefits mankind.”

Her weak spot is her affair with a Jesuit priest, Thomas, and Alexandra’s inner circle plot with the Jesuits against her:

“We could deal with Felicity very well… if you could deal with Thomas.”

The plot, of course, involves a break-in – to steal Felicity’s love letters, which she has secreted in her sewing box. Foolishly, the two Jesuit priests assigned this task take her thimble on a practise run to prove the theft is possible and, when they return for the letters, they are caught. Alexandra, in the meantime, is keen to retain what is now known as plausible deniability:

“You know, Walburga… from this moment on, you may not report such things to me.”

The novel does not really work as a satire – nor is it likely it is intended to. Spark generally finds immoral behaviour amusing and tends to mock rather than attack. As Alexandra puts it, “We are corrupt by our nature in the Fall of Man… O happy flaw!” Generally the novel is much more light-hearted than those which have preceded it, with jokes – “Gertrude should have been a man… With her moustache, you can see that” – and elements of farce, such as when a blackmail payment to the Jesuits takes place in a woman’s toilet requiring one of the priests to dress in drag. Gertrude, a perpetual missionary contacted by Alexandra for advice by phone (and always in a different location), might be seen as the voice of reason, but even she exists in an exaggerated reality, at one point negotiating a truce between a tribe of cannibals and a tribe of vegetarians.

Spark does not deal in problems and solutions, but in paradoxes and, as Gertrude tells Alexandra when asked “how one treats a paradox”:

“A paradox you live with.”

Paradoxes are everywhere in the text, even at the end, when Alexandra is told, “you may have the public mythology of the press and television but you won’t get the mythological approach from Rome. In Rome, they deal with realities.”

The Abbess of Crewe is a delight – clearly if a sitcom in a nunnery was required Spark should have been first in line to script it. And in Alexandra we have one of Spark’s most memorable characters: corrupt, cruel, and yet compelling, and, in the end (like Brodie), immune to guilt.

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E.E.G.

October 25, 2018

Dasa Drndic’s Belladonna ends with the writer, Andreas Ban’s, attempted suicide. A final chapter, in the voice of his son, Leo, tells of fruitless attempts to contact his father, but concludes;

“Andreas Ban must appear somewhere, he cannot leave me with such a burden. This burden oppresses me, Andreas knows that, he will come back because of me, to make it easier for me. It’s hard to completely erase history and memory, history and memory like to come back.”

Now, in her final book, E.E.G. (that is, electroencephalogram, a recording of brain wave patterns) Ban returns, declaring, “Of course I didn’t kill myself.” It is, naturally, tempting to read Ban as a version of Drndic, but Ban himself soon dismisses the idea of autobiography, “as though my life could be pressed between the covers of a book,”

“Autobiographical books don’t exist, autobiographies don’t exist, there are multigraphies, biographical mixes, biographical cocktails, the whole melange of a life through which we dig, which we clear out, from which we select fragments, remnants, little pieces that we stuff into our pockets, little mouthfuls that we swallow as though they were our own.”

Drndic (or Ban) is dismissive of narrative writing in general – “I’m not offering ‘a story’, because I write about people who don’t have ‘a story’, not about those or for those who are looking for other people’s stories in order to find their own in them.” She is scornful of critics who “randomly dish out threadbare platitudes, worn-out assertions that a writer should create ‘rounded, living, complex and convincing characters’.” Instead her books consist of “fragments, remnants, little pieces”, an urgency of digression in which the detours become the journey. In this, Drndic argues, she is simply reflecting reality:

“What kind of continuity? What continuity? Everything around us, including ourselves, it’s all in patches, in spasms, in ebbing and flowing, our whole envelope, this whole earthly covering, it’s criss-crossed with loose stitches, which keep coming undone, and which we keep persistently trying to tighten.”

As we know from Belladonna, Ban has an uneasy relationship with his homeland – “an illiterate, haughty, puffed-up nation” – part of a larger distrust of nationalism and its selective relationship with history. The novel begins with his return to his parents’ house, and his sister, Ada:

“I found her in a bad way. Buried in the cellar of the family house we had sold for peanuts in the early 1990s to some Italians.”

It is difficult not to feel that the basement is where the past has been placed; while the building above is freshly painted and plastered – “in fact, the whole street has become well-mannered” – it remains dark and neglected even in summer. It is also from there that the past resurfaces: a game of chess with his sister leads Ban to recollect the many chess players reduced to madness and suicide, and then the story of chess throughout the Second World War, those who played ion for the Nazis and those who were murdered by them:

“Why have I strayed so far? The paths of human thought really are mysterious.”

The main focus of E.E.G. however is Latvia, to which Ban is linked by a ballerina he once knew, Leila who was born there, and also a family secret;

“For me Latvia became a riddle only some ten years later, when a half-truth, long unspoken in my family, acquired outlines when, like wormholes, those penetrations into space and time, into new spaces and a new time, it began to create shortcuts towards a journey, that often dangerous and destructive journey, the end of which cannot be seen.”

He pieces together a story of his uncle, Karlo Osterman, who fails to convince a young Jewish violinist, Frida Landsberg, to leave Riga with him after the Nazi invasion:

“The situation was clear to Karlo Osterman, for Karlo Osterman it was a reprise, racial laws in Croatia had been in force for two months…”

Landsberg’s story begins the story of Latvia under German occupation, which is the story of another country which has forgotten or rewritten its past.

As with any summary of Drndic’s work, however, this imposes a neatness absent in the original, which also takes Ban to other European countries (much as he visited Holland in Belladonna), and tells us of the last days of his father in a care home. Typically there are lists, most extensively this time a list of confiscated libraries (the focus on chess, music, and libraries suggest Drndic is particularly concerned with the destruction of culture or intellect – a theme that runs parallel to that of madness). Drndic’s novels are simply unlike that of any other writer being both kaleidoscopic and monomanic at the same time. Occasionally overwhelming, a tidal wave which does not cleanse but retreats to reveal the forgotten debris of the past. Though her best known work has been written in the twenty-first century, she is in many ways the vital voice of the twentieth.

Agostino

October 21, 2018

It has not been easy finding a novel to read for Karen and Simon’s 1944 Club, but I eventually settled on Alberto Moravia’s Agostino which qualifies, hopefully, despite being originally published in 1943 thanks to a revised edition issued the next year. (This is according to the Afterword by translator Michael F Moore – the NYRB edition simultaneously claims it was first published in 1945!) Agostino is a slim coming-of-age story: the title character begins the novel as his mother’s shadow, happy to set out to sea each summer morning with her to swim together:

“He rowed with deep pleasure on the smooth, diaphanous, early morning sea, and his mother, sitting in front of him, would speak to him softly, as joyful and serene as the sea and the sky, as if he were a man rather than a thirteen-year-old boy.”

This pleasurable ritual is disturbed when a young man approaches his mother: “All at once a shadow obstructed the sunlight shining down on him.” Agostino is surprised when his mother accepts the young man’s invitation to take a boat trip with him; as he watches them leave together, he sees that he has been literally replaced, a rejection which feels as public as the pride he took in accompanying her previously. The next day, his mother insists that Agostino go with them, angering Agostino further:

“…as if rather than a person endowed with an independent will he were an object that could be moved about arbitrarily.”

Eventually a sarcastic remark leads his mother to slap him, and Agostino runs off. He meets another boy, Berto, playing cops and robbers, and manages to inveigle his way into Berto’s gang by offering him his mother’s cigarettes:

“He felt as if, by going off with Berto, he were pursuing an obscure and justified form of revenge.”

Berto, and his friends, are clearly both poorer and rougher than Agostino, and Moravia punctuates their dialogue with sudden outbursts of violence. This begins when Berto plays a trick on Agostino, burning him with a cigarette. In fury, Agostino charges at him, only to be quickly gripped in a headlock:

“He was not so much frightened as bewildered by the boy’s extraordinary brutality… a new behaviour so monstrous it was almost attractive.”

Berto is treated no differently when they reach the boys’ den, his newly acquired cigarettes taken from him by an older boy:

“The other boy took a step back and waited till Berto was within range. Then he stuck the cigarette pack between his teeth and started methodically pounding Berto’s stomach with his fists.”

As much as Agostino is fascinated by the boys, they are also intrigued by him: his large house (twenty rooms), his car and driver, and his attractive mother. Agostino’s newly grasped independence allows him to see his mother as an individual as well: “She’s a woman, nothing more than a woman.” He becomes aware of her sexuality at the same time as his own, and Agostino’s coming-of-age is very much sexual rather than social – although he is aware of the other boys’ poverty he finds their freedom attractive and gives little thought to the difficulties of their lives compared to his.

Agostino’s awareness of the sexuality of others is also developed through the character of Saro, who seems initially a father figure to the boys, but is also sleeping with one of them. When Agostino is invited on his boat, he cannot convince the others that he has not also been subject to Saro’s desires. Moravia conveys the confusion in his mind:

“On that day his eyes had been forced open, but what he learned was far more than he could bear. What oppressed an embittered him was not so much the novelty as the quality of the things he had come to know, their massive and undigested importance.”

This is the novel’s greatest success, the picture it paints of Agostino’s turbulence and turmoil so typical of adolescence. Partly this is due to Moravia’s ability to explore sex without moralising. He also makes no claim that during the few days the novel covers, Agostino transforms from boy to man:

“But he wasn’t a man, and many unhappy days would pass before he became one.”

Agostino is a classic coming-of-age story from a writer who is always interesting.

Catastrophe and Other Stories

October 15, 2018

Dino Buzzati is most famous, certainly in the English-speaking world, for his novel The Tartar Steppe. Notable also, though less well-known, is his ‘graphic novel’ (it predates the term), Poem Strip, which he both wrote and drew. Other novels and short stories have been translated but have long been unavailable, so credit is due to Alma Classics for this compilation of existing translations, Catastrophe and Other Stories, originally published in the sixties and seventies, mainly translated by Judith Landry, but with contributions from E. R. Low and Cynthia Jolly.

Whether carefully selected or simply typical of Buzzati’s style, most of the stories do, indeed, end in some form of catastrophe. In the opening story, ‘The Collapse of the Baliverna’, the narrator expresses his guilt over the destruction of the building in question, “a huge, grim brick building put up outside the town during the seventeenth century by the monks of San Celso.” It was now “the home of a whole crowd of evacuees, homeless people who had been bombed out, of tramps, deadbeats, even a small group of Gypsies.” (In such documentary detail we see Buzzati the journalist). In attempting to climb the walls, the narrator pulls out a rusty iron spike, which in turn releases another, and then a slab of stone. Within moments the entire building collapses. This brief story might be said to contain a moral lesson, but it largely conveys a feeling; the panic of unintended consequences.

Similarly, ‘The Epidemic’, a political satire, is convincing precisely because of its psychological truth. Its central character, the Colonel, is persuaded that the flu epidemic which is emptying his office is actually a test of loyalty: “if you get influenza you’re against the government.” Naturally he continues to work on no matter how ill he feels:

“The Colonel would appear at the office at the usual time with the regularity of a robot, divide the work up among his juniors and then sit motionless at his desk, racked by burst of hollow coughing.”

In other stories the element of nightmare is at work even more strongly. In ‘Just the Very Thing They Wanted’ a holidaying couple, Antonio and Anna, first face problems when they cannot find a hotel which is not already full (while all appear quite empty). A visit to the public baths to cool off is no more successful as both must first present their identity card and Anna has misplaced hers. Their frustrations continue, eventually turning the village against them, with unexpectedly violent consequences which Buzzati makes all too believable. In ‘Seven Floors’ Giuseppe Corte is admitted to a sanatorium, the mildness of his condition placing him on the seventh floor:

“…the patients were housed on each floor according to the gravity of their state. The seventh – or top – floor was for extremely mild cases… On the first floor were the hopeless cases.”

When he is asked to move to the sixth floor, not for medical reasons but to accommodate anther patient, he reluctantly agrees – and one can see where the story in inevitably heading.

In ‘Catastrophe’ passengers find themselves on a train heading towards an unknown doom. The first warning occurs as the train leaves the station with the narrator watching a woman on the platform:

“But as the train passed her she didn’t even look in our direction… but turned her head to listen to a man who had come rushing up the lane and was shouting something which we, of course, couldn’t hear.”

As they travel on they see “men and women bending over parcels, closing suitcases”;

“A small boy with a bundle of newspapers tried to chase after us, waving one with great black headlines on the front page.”

In this, and other catastrophic stories, it’s difficult not to see the influence of the war, even if metaphorically in a story such as ‘And Yet They Are Knocking at Your Door’ in which a wealthy family refuse to believe their house might be in danger from a storm:

“Just the usual peasant’s panics. The river’s very swollen, they say the house is in danger…”

Buzzati punctuates the story which unexplained noises which the family dismiss as thunder. Characters are also threatened in ‘The Scala Scare’ where those in the opera house fear an armed insurrection has taken place:

“The state of the besieged was becoming grotesque. Outside, the silent, empty streets had at least a semblance of peacefulness. Inside, on the other hand, there was the vision of total defeat: dozens of rich and highly respected, influential people were resignedly putting up with a humiliating situation for a danger that had still to be demonstrated.”

The later stories in the collection (stories are not individually dated so there is not way of knowing if they are, indeed, later stories) are closer to fable, particularly ‘The Egg’ and ‘The Enchanted Coat’, demonstrating Buzzati’s range and skill. This is a wonderful collection, and Buzzati is clearly a writer who deserves exploration beyond a single work.

The Communist

October 9, 2018

If ever there were to be a book of neglected writers, then surely Guido Morselli would deserve his place: his seven novels were only published after he died at his own hands, a suicide which was at least partly caused by the endless rejections from publishers. I first encountered Morselli via Jacqui’s review of Divertimento 1889, one of only two of his novels to have made it into English. I soon tracked down the other, Past Conditional, which tantalisingly suggested plans for further translations which never came to fruit. Coincidentally, however, Frederika Randall was translating Morselli’s fourth novel, The Communist, for New York Review of Books Classics around the same time.

The Communist is Morselli’s most realist novel (he was a writer who never settled to a single genre), set in 1950s Italy where communism is a popular political movement, associated with resistance to Mussolini’s fascists. Walter Ferranini, the communist of the title, is a life-long believer – his father was a railwayman and an anarchist – who left Italy in the thirties to fight against Franco in Spain. The Second World War prevented his return and he spent the war years in America instead. As the novel opens, he has recently been elected to parliament, a position to which is attached little in the way of power or responsibility. Not only has he not spoken once in the five months he has been there:

“He had been assigned to a committee that met rarely, the most pacific and least industrious committee in parliament, in which his silence was no more remarked upon than it was in the chamber. The party, too, asked little of him, perhaps because in Rome, where he had never set foot at party headquarters before his recent election, nobody knew him.”

He wishes to propose a bill which will protect workers from accidents at work but he is told, “Communists do not take part in the life of the parliament, they observe and remain outside.” This is perhaps the beginning of his political crisis of faith, though its roots are complex and many. He, first of all, sees corruption, or at least a love of comfort, among his peers, which perhaps reminds him of his own deviation from the party in America:

“I sank into a reified, dispossessed world that completely transformed me. It was the great crisis of my life… A betrayal.”

In America he also married, and the woman in question, Nancy, is still his wife. His lover, Nuccia, is also married though separated; her child looked after by her parents. Ferranini knows the party disapprove of their relationship, and, when an official goes to Nuccia with a request from her husband that they get back together, he points to their own guilt:

“We let ourselves be seen, Nuccia. We were visible. Something had to happen.”

Another factor is the party’s approach to dissent. He is sent by the party with colleagues to speak to a young man, Mazzola, who has broken from party discipline. Ferranini, being a worker rather than an intellectual, is there as an observer, the only one who feels any sympathy for Mazzola’s position, shaking his hand as he leaves “without saying anything. He would have liked to, but couldn’t find the words.” Later he publishes an article that puts him at odds with the party hierarchy concerning a doubt he has had since the beginning of the novel regarding labour:

“…the classics say labour will be reduced to a minimum once communism is established. But the way I see it, labour cannot be reduced, and certainly not abolished.”

The article, in turn, is commented on in the mainstream press:

“The article affirms that the enervation that comes with labour is not merely the consequence of alienation and exploitation but an intrinsic quality of work.”

Ferranini’s theorising relates directly to his concern for the workers, but the party censures him causing him to doubt his unquestioning devotion and take dramatic action. As with Morselli’s other novels, there is a philosophical intention – this is neither satire nor polemic, and Ferranini’s sincerity and seriousness are among his defining qualities. (If Morselli and his character might be criticised for one thing, it is a lack of humour).

The novel is also interesting for its feminism, voiced through the character of Nuccia (“the degree of liberty and progress in a society corresponds to the degree of evolution in the sexual domain”) and the appearance of Alberto Moravia discussing realism. Above all, though, the novel provides a historical snapshot, while at the same time exploring the possibility of political purity.

Tristana

October 7, 2018

The Spanish writer Benito Perez Galdos has never made the same impact in English as, for example, the great French realist, Emile Zola. Tristana, translated by Margaret Jull Costa in 2014, is the latest in a small number of translations of his novels which have appeared sporadically over the years. The title character is a young woman who lives with the ageing lothario Don Lope, though, as the novel opens, neighbours seem uncertain about their relationship:

“For a period of about two or three months, it was held to be the gospel truth that the young lady was Dom Lope’s niece. The contrary view – that she was his daughter – took hold… After which another opinion blew in, according to which she was none other than Don Lope’s legal wife.”

None of the above are true: she is, in fact, the daughter of a friend, whom Don Lope has helped out of debt on more than one occasion. When both her parents die, she comes to love with him, an arrangement which makes her part servant, part mistress. That the novel begins with attempts to define Tristana according to her relationship with a man is interesting, however, as her desire to create an identity which is not reliant on such a relationship is one of her driving forces:

“She felt restless, ambitious, although for quite what she didn’t know, for something very far off, very high up, which her eyes could not see.”

Her life changes when she falls in love with a painter, Horacio, and they set out on a relationship of smuggled letters and secret meetings. Both are presented by Galdos as entirely confident in their love, and even when Tristana confesses her relationship with Don Lope to him, Horacio dismisses any idea it will influence his feelings:

“I love you as much as I did before, no, more, always more.”

Don Lope suspects that she has “found romance” and we see he is more than a two-dimensional villain as his feelings are one moment angry, caring the next. When he plays the role of her father and rails about defending her honour, she scornfully reminds him she has none – “because you took it away from me, you ruined me.” His anger fades and it is clear that she has hurt him:

“My child, how it wounds me to hear you judge me like that, in such absolute terms… The truth is…Yes, you’re right…”

It is the complexity of the characters which makes Tristana such a rewarding read. Tristana, even in the raptures of love, still determines to become independent:

“It seems to me now that if I had been taught drawing when I was a child, I would be able to paint now and live independently, and earn my own living from my honest labours.”

Don Lope’s maid, Saturna tells her there are only three careers open to women: marriage, the theatre and prostitution, but throughout the novel Tristana remains determined to discover other talents.

Horacio and Tristana’s love seems likely to survive even their separation when Horacio must leave for the country with his aunt. Their letters to each other, which conduct the narrative at this point, suggest the strength of their affection, though in often irritating language (“lovekins”?). Perhaps there are signs of more than geographical distance, however, in their separate pursuits: while Tristana learns English, Horacio becomes a farmer.

When Tristana falls seriously ill, we are made to realise that with no formal relationship, Horacio cannot see her. His absence while she suffers gives the appearance of callousness, while Don Lope, in contrast, is caring. The novel itself becomes as morally complex as its characters, though in retrospect this has been clear from the beginning:

“The conscience of this warrior of love was…capable of shining forth like a bright star, but on other occasions, it revealed itself to be as horrible arid as a dead planet.”

Tristana’s feelings, too, have never been entirely set against Don Lope:

“The strange thing is that if this man were to understand I cannot love him, if he were to erase the word ‘love’ from our relationship and we could relate to each other in a different way, then I could love him, yes, I could, though I’m not sure how…”

Tristana is a reminder that the black and white reality we sometimes imagine we live in is, in fact, many shades of grey. It is realist in the sense that it falsifies neither a happy nor a tragic ending, but leaves us with the moral muddle we must so often accept in life.

Henri Duchemin and His Shadows

October 3, 2018

Moving from one neglected French writer (Violette Leduc) to another, Emmanuel Bove was born in 1898, publishing throughout the twenties and thirties. His first novel under his own name was My Friends in 1924, though he had previously been writing popular fiction using a pseudonym. He was unable to publish during the Occupation, and wrote his final novels after escaping to Algiers, only to die in 1945. A number of his novels have been translated into English but most are out of print; Henri Duchemin and His Shadows is a translation by Alyson Waters of a collection originally published in 1939, La Dernière Nuit.

The title of Bove’s first novel (to be reprinted by New York Review of Books Classics next March) seems indicative as many of the stories here also focus on friendship. In ‘Night Crime’, Henri Duchemin is poor and alone. His desire to end his loneliness is obvious from the opening pages where he offers to open his heart to a stranger in a café:

“He was so happy to be speaking that he seemed younger. He was sure he would be liked and this gave him confidence.”

Unfortunately the woman he addresses is unsympathetic: “Don’t be ridiculous. If you’re so unhappy, just kill yourself.” His need for companionship unrequited, he moves to an even more insalubrious bar, finding himself sitting by a sleeping man who, on waking, asks him:

“Do you want to be my friend? Like you, I wouldn’t mind having a lot of money.”

The stranger’s plan involves Duchemin going into the house of a wealthy banker, and killing him:

“You’ll enter his bedroom, the moon will light your way. You’ll just need to strike, and you’ll be rich.”

Although he does not want to commit the murder, he finds himself drawn into the plot. They go to the house and the stranger sends him into the banker’s bedroom with a hammer, but when he returns with the man’s wallet, his companion is gone. Even now his longing is for friendship, using his new-found wealth in a bar, throwing money to his “true friends”, only a moment later beginning to “sense that they did not like him…”

“The ugliness of life appeared to him. Until then, as long as they had been listening to him, he had been in a dream.”

Duchemin’s loneliness, rather than his poverty, seems to be at the root of his crime.

Loneliness is also at the heart of ‘Another Friend’ which also begins with the narrator meeting a stranger and striking up a friendship while feeding ducks in the park:

“For the first time in my life I was not embarrassed to meet someone. I was in such a perfect position to be liked that I could speak to anyone without being afraid.”

The stranger invites the narrator for lunch, declaring, “You have a friend in me. Every time I am able to make someone’s life a little less painful, I do so.” As the story goes on to demonstrate, however, friendship brings with it not only joy, but disappointment.

We see this, too, in ‘Night Visit’ which examines a more established friendship, the narrator interrupted at home one night by an old war comrade, Paul:

“Well, my friend, in the name of this unblemished friendship I am asking you to listen to me.”

The story examines the limits of friendship, the narrator, unable to resolve Paul’s problems, proposing to return to his home:

“Although my friendship for him was strong right then, it seemed ridiculous to spend a night consoling him.”

Friendship, it seems, is not to be relied on; and neither, if the stories in the second half of the book are anything to go by, is love. In ‘What I Saw’ the narrator is convinced he sees his girlfriend in a taxi kissing another man and is powerless before her denials. In ‘Is It a Lie?’ the wife stays out all night and her husband must decide whether to believe her story or not. In ‘The Story of a Madman’ the narrator tells all his loved ones that he does not wish to see them again. ‘The Child’s Return’ works in reverse: a narrator separated from his family is traveling to visit them, but the reunion is not as straight-forward as he had hoped.

Bove’s world is one in which no-one’s affection is reliable, and characters must either face up to this – a realisation which is often associated with suicide – or pretend to believe otherwise:

“…rather than losing everything, it would be better to suffer in silence in order to have the joy of living with the woman he loved and who had enough respect and fondness for him to go to the trouble of lying.”

Despite this cynicism, he evokes a sympathy for his characters which borders on affection. They are well worth accompanying on their sad journeys.