The Leopard

The Leopard

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

First Sentence:     The daily recital of the rosary was over.

Back of the book:

In the spring of 1860, Fabrizio, the charismatic Prince of Salina, still rules over thousands of acres and hundreds of people, including his own numerous family, in mingled splendour and squalor. Then comes Garibaldi’s landing in Sicily and the Prince must decide whether to resist the forces of change or come to terms with them.

Quote from the book:

They were the most moving sight there, two young people in love dancing together, blind to each other’s defects, deaf to the warnings of fate, deluding themselves that the whole course of their lives would be as smooth as the ballroom floor, unknowing actors set to play the parts of Juliet and Romeo by a director who had concealed the fact that tomb and poison were already in the script. Neither was good, each self-interested, turgid with secret aims; yet there was something sweet and touching about them both; those murky but ingenious ambitions of theirs were obliterated by the words of jesting tenderness he was murmuring in her ear, by the scent of her hair, by the mutual clasp of those bodies destined to die.

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Me and You

 Niccolò Ammaniti

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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If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

Italo Calvino

First Sentence:    You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler.

I think it’s safe to say that anyone who reads this opening sentence alone is going to know whether or not they’ll enjoy this book. Yes, it is forever referring to itself, and yes, the main protagonist is ‘you’. If that sounds like a nightmare, stop reading. If however, it reels you in like it did me, you’re in for an unforgettable reading experience. Not unforgettable in the sense that you’ll remember everything that goes on in this book, there are far too many subplots and diversions for that. But unforgettable in the sense that you know the impression it leaves will stay with you forever, and colour all your subsequent reading. And therein lies the problem. Well not exactly a problem, but I just get the feeling that this is a book to be read once, and once only (no bad thing in a world with an endless supply). It seems to me that the initial sense of WOW!, would be lost on a second or third reading. However, the main appeal of this book, the main reason you keep on reading in the first place is that sense you get after the first sentence; that sense of ‘ooh this is different, I wonder where he’ll go from here’. Something tells me that without that sense of  ‘ooh’, a lot of the impact would be lost. What I’m trying to say is this: read this book, it’s a hell of a journey and if you’re willing to go along with it, you won’t be disappointed. I just don’t think it is one of those books that would hold up very well when all the exterior structures and the post-modern metafiction tomfoolery is taken away. Great fun though. If you like that sort of thing…

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Pereira Maintains

Antonio Tabucchi

First Sentence: Pereira maintains he met him one summer’s day.

This book was one of those books that I thought was good, almost great, with much to admire, but just not enough to really stand out in my mind for very long after I’d finished it. Even though it’s a relatively short book, coming in at just under 200 pages, it almost feels like it would have worked better as a short story or a novella. That’s not to say this is not a good book, it is. But ultimately I feel it’s one I won’t be going back to, nor would I be in a hurry to hunt out more from Tabucchi. The story itself is one man’s testimony about events that happened to him during a sweltering  Summer in Portugal. The year is 1938 and it is set against a backdrop of social and political unrest. Pereira himself is quite likeable, despite his constant need for Omelette aux fines herbes and lemonade, his likeability almost in jeopardy by the constant refrain of  ‘he maintains’ which dominates the prose. He is solely responsible for the arts section in national newspaper the Lisboa, is forever speaking to his dead wife’s photograph and by all accounts, is a lovable recluse. This is all before he meets the young journalist Monteiro Rossi who, along with his girlfriend Marta will transform Pereira into an altogether different person. I do like this book, and I’d certainly recommend it, especially of you have interest in the particular period of history, but I just feel it falls a little short of the mark on a few crucial levels. Enjoyable but not essential

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