Having ended last week with a Hesperus title, I'm back again with the other one that arrived at the same time. Both books strangely hit the mark at just the right reading hiatus.
A name lurking virtually unknown in the darkest recesses of my mind so to discover he was one of Italy's foremost literary figures and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934 came as quite a surprise.The arrival of a little book of a hundred pages from Hesperus seemed like a worthwhile diversion in the face of some mighty tomes of late, all of which are taking an age to read and it will be weeks before you benefit in the slightest from any thoughts on them.
Yes, give me an easy little book and I'll be able to rattle off a few words.
The Turn, an immaculate and very funny little read indeed until you turn to the Introduction, which I always do after the event.Howard Curtis (who's he? the translator I see ) then takes me to one side and whispers, listen up, and suddenly an easy little read packs a whopping great big punch.
There we go, a book punching above it's weight again, I'm starting to like that analogy.
On the surface then an ingenious, almost farcically comic read first published in 1902 and set in rural Sicily.
Stellina is of marriageable material and matched by her impoverished father Marcantonio to the wealthy but ageing suitor Don Diego on the assumption that Don Diego will blow a gasket and expire rapidly after the wedding, thus leaving Stellina as a very marriageble but very rich widow who can get on with her life ever thereafter.
Sorry, that sounds like the stuff of the slot I find most irritating of all on any radio station I've ever listened to, Lesley Garret's Sixty Second Opera on Classic FM, wherein she garbles an entire operatic plot in the alloted time proving perhaps in fact that there really is no need to sit through three hours of it? Or have I missed the point?
In the eyes of Marcantonio
'it was less a marriage than a simple adoption.'
and once Don Diego had popped his clogs it would be someone else's 'turn' with his daughter.
Stellina slightly at odds with this point of view and makes it clear that she is not impressed with her father's choice of groom, as you wouldn't be either when you discover he sports a comb-over to rival Sir Bobby, (bless Sir Bobby Charlton.For those who don't follow English football, he played for his country when they earned 1s/6d a week and put their heart and soul into it, we love him)
'Don Diego who was very thin and very short...with nimble little steps like a partridge, holding his hat in his hand...as if deliberately showing off his one remaining strand of hair, which he had grown long, dyed a curious pinkish colour, and brushed with great care in such a way as to hide his bald cranium as best he could.'
There are audible gasps around the town over the paternal perfidy and honour is tested in every direction.
Nothing goes according to plan and Pirandello plays out the tangled mess with readable, page-turning gusto. I winced slightly over a fall-out which led the love-lorn and gullible young Pepe towards a duel with sabres which rent him slightly asunder,(Pepe's previous experience not even stretching to a pocket knife)and requiring a smocking and quilting of unanaesthetised needlework to resolve, but still I kept on laughing shamelessly.
It was Howard Curtis who pointed out the depths to this seemingly innocent story because actually on reflection that incident wasn't that funny, in fact to Howard it's
'the stuff of melodrama, if not outright tragedy, rather than comedy,'
and yes the closer you look, the darker the story becomes.
There is an excellent reminder of the definition of the comic over the humorous which I won't forget in a hurry.Comic as the recognition of the absurdity of behaviour, that which makes us laugh; humorous as that which allows us to see behind the behaviour and understand it, thus investing the reading with a smile of compassion.
Howard Curtis goes on to elaborate how Pirandello, influenced by early work on the psychology of the personality, was beginning to explore and demonstrate how easily things could fall apart under pressure. Perhaps no coincidence that Luigi Pirandello was able to do it so effectively when you learn that his wife Antoinetta was starting to show the early signs of the mental illness that would eventually confine her to an asylum.
How much more I gained from this book once I'd read Howard Curtis's lucid and revealing thoughts and hopefully my few words, not actually rattled off in the end because it's taken me ages to formulate them, will send you scurrying to find this heavyweight masking as a bantam sized read.
And if Snowbooks have published it as well for goodness' sake go and look at theirs too or it'll be stocksheets at dawn on here again:-)