It’s time for this month’s chain of reading, set off by Kate’s Six Degrees of Separation, in which we are invited to build a chain of 6 books that bear some form of connection to the one before them – be it author, theme, style, location, title, era, language, ….. – all starting from a book suggested by Kate.
This month, the start of our reading chain is a great classic from 1951, Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. If you haven’t read it yet, and don’t have time at the moment, why not sit back and enjoy one of the film versions – 1955 with Deborah Kerr, Van Johnson and Peter Cushing, or 2000 with Julianne Moore, Ralph Fiennes and Stephen Rea.
I watched them both to get me in the mood and thoroughly enjoyed these reminders of the novel.
What could the first step be from Greene’s romantic wartime affair? My choice is Fidelity, by Marco Missiroli, a story of the whys and wherefores of affairs.
This Italian novel, set mainly in Milan, has had rave reviews and is now a 6 part Italian Netflix series, Fedeltà.
I actually found it hard to get into the book. There are four main characters at the start – the husband and wife and their “temptations” – and I think my problem was that I didn’t really like any of them. Plus, one of them was involved in dog fighting which really didn’t encourage my turning of the pages. However, I persevered and as the story jumped forwards a few years I was hooked. The wife’s mother grabbed me and pulled me into the story, and the others seemed more interesting now.
I enjoyed the Netflix series too, but I have to say it bore little relationship to the book, other than marriage, disloyalty and the characters’ names.
Next, we’ll hop off to Naples and Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend
What beautiful writing! The flow of words immediately wrapped me up and deposited me into the story, joining these two girls as they grow up in a suburb of Naples in the 1950s. Ambition, fear, poverty, heat, illness, desire, resignation, love, crime, deceit, murder … I could go on.
I can’t recommend this enough, and if you fancy watching the screen rather then turning the pages the tv series is also excellent. The first two episodes were presented at the 75th Venice International Film Festival in 2018 and each of the series has received excellent reviews.
And if you get to Naples in person, why not try a tour of the haunts of Lila and Lenù with Looking for Lila
Our next stop finds us in Florence, where we meet Marco Vichi’s Inspector Bordelli in Death in August.
Set in Florence in 1962, this is our first chance to meet Bordelli, a character I soon grew to like. He is concerned with supporting those in need – he looks at the reasons for crime and prefers to use help rather than punishment as the solution.
There were a couple of points in the story that linked me back to the previous books in this chain. Bordelli is noticing his age and notes the moment when he became old, reminding me of Carlo in Fidelity pushing his students to find the moment they grew up and became adult. And a souvenir ashtray early in the story whisked us to Pompeii, reminding me of my childhood trip to Naples, and an era when decorated ashtrays were a key item in souvenir shops. More than that, though, Vichi expresses disdain for those people whose main aim to demonstrate personal success is to own a Fiat 1100 – the very car that Ferrante’s sons of Silvio Solara use to flaunt their family wealth and to pick up girls.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, happy to meet Bordelli and his friends, sitting in a cosy Florence telling stories of war (all are stories the author’s father told him). The crime investigation flows along behind real life, keeping me turning the pages. I’ll be reading more of this series.
As ever, I can’t resist including a Montalbano tale when in Italy.
Tying in with Bordelli and his recognition of his age, I’ve chosen The Cook of the Halcyon, the 27th in the Montalbano series, in which Montalbano makes many references to his age and they temptation of retirement.
Camilleri gives us a very dramatic start, diving into a crazy Montalbano dream, and just when I thought the dream had ended I found we were still in it. I soon felt entirely at home in Vigata with Montalbano and his team. Serious issues are quickly revealed but the book still has a warmth that softens the effects of crime and corruption on the reader, and the usual Camilleri humour is there to raise our spirits.
I thought this book had a slightly different feel to it – hints of a humorous John Le Carre perhaps. It turns out that the story was initially written as a play and Camilleri later converted it to novel.
Although the end of the series is clearly close, I still thoroughly enjoyed this investigation.
So, we’ve been to Milan, Naples, Florence and Sicily so far. Where next? I think it has to be Rome, and Early One Morning by Virginia Baily.
I read this book before my first visit to Rome, a few years ago, and the minute I stepped into the Jewish Quarter the opening pages of this book and the marching Nazi soldiers in 1943 came rushing back. This is an engrossing book full of sadness, love and hope. The main characters have many issues to deal with and not all have as happy a solution as we might hope. I highly recommend this book.
Just as I could not omit Montalbano, I can’t miss out Brunetti. So let’s finish our Italian meanderings in Venice with Donna Leon’s Falling in Love
Here we get to meet Flavia Petrelli again when she makes a reappearance after her role in the first Brunetti novel, Death at La Fenice. A great read as ever. And if you’ve already read this one, a new one has just been published: Give unto others.
I hope my chain of six pieces has given you an enjoyable trip around Italy from Fidelity (and infidelity) to Falling in love.
Next month we’ll be setting off from Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield.
Note: Most of my links this week are to Hive, an online bookseller that gives part of the income to local booksellers, and you get to choose the bookshop you’d like to receive the benefit. I’m delighted that my local bookshop, Books on the Hill, is on the list, and have been happily supporting them in this way.
Copyright Debbie Smyth, 26 March 2022
Posted as part of Six Degrees