First Sentence: ‘Coffee?’
This is a short novel about Lorenzo Cuni, a fourteen-year-old Italian schoolboy who pretends he is going on a skiing trip, but instead hides out in the basement of his parents’ house. After reading Open City I was in desperate need of a story, and this fit the bill perfectly. This is the fourth book by Ammaniti that I’ve read, and it has a lot in common with his previous work like I’m Not Scared in that it deals with young people coming to terms with their place in society. This is a brief book that can be read on many levels, and you can take away from it as much or as little as you wish. On one hand it can be read as a straightforward story of a boy growing up, almost a fable. There are many other possible readings however, US foreign policy even gets a look in at one stage when Lorenzo is telling his ill grandma a story about an electronic pool cleaner (which is also an assassin) that electrocutes everybody in any pool it happens to be cleaning. It ends up invading every pool in sight (instead of doing the one thing it was supposed to do, ie go to Saddam Husseins’ pool) and then goes on to enter the sea. What happens next is anyone’s guess. But Lorenzo’s grandma doesn’t really like this ending, so he comes up with another one. In fact, endings themselves are also important in the book, as are stories, so it could be read as an exploration of fiction itself. Lorenzo says of endings:
After I saw a film, it drove me crazy the way Dad and Mum always talked about the ending, like the whole story was in the ending and nothing else mattered.
Regardless of all that it could or could not be however, the important thing is all that it is; an enjoyable, memorable novel that entertains and provokes at the same time. And if endings do matter to you, read on…
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Last Sentence: I bend over and put my nose up against her neck.
Last Sentence explained: Before the book begins there is a brief passage explaining Batesian mimicry. This is when a harmless animal takes on the characteristics of a toxic one in its environment, imitating its behaviour and appearance in order to appear more threatening, and therefore increase its chances of survival. Clearly, this is what several of the characters in this book are doing. Lorenzo feels different from everybody else in his school and likes his own company better than his classmates. A week on his own in a basement is his idea of heaven, but unfortunately his heaven is ruined by the appearance of his half-sister, Olivia. We soon learn that Olivia is an addict and in need of help. Lorenzo agrees to leave the basement in order to get her sleeping pills (the night he visits his grandma in hospital and tells her his outlandish story) but on his return he finds her unconscious. For a moment we believe she is dead, but then she wakes up and they fall asleep together. The next morning Lorenzo finds a note from his sister:
I remembered that another thing I hate are goodbyes and so I’ve decided to slip out before you wake up[…] I’m happy I found a brother hidden in a cellar
And that’s the main storyline. The first sentence and last sentence above however, take place ten years after all this. In the very last scene Lorenzo is waiting to see Olivia for the first time in ten years. Only it is her corpse he has come to view. She clearly couldn’t live her life pretending to be something she wasn’t and it makes us ask ourselves if Lorenzo still is…