Andrea Camilleri's humor
I understand enough Italian to pick out a word here and there and even to follow the thread of a conversation if I concentrate hard enough, which I could not do because a vacuous blowhard with an extremely loud voice sat across the bar from the Romans commiserating with his female friend about cruise ships and Jamaica.
Not only did he hear what she was saying, but he knew where she was coming from. If he had decided to not even go there, I would have slapped a twenty-dollar bill on the bar, ordered him to shut up, and paid for their drinks and their taxi home.
What does this have to do with Andrea Camilleri and his protagonist, the unparalleled Inspector Salvo Montalbano? Montalbano also hates clichés and psychobabbling banality. Here's Montalbano on the phone with his lover, Livia, in The Smell of the Night (titled The Scent of the Night for delicate-nosed U.K. readers):
"`Come on Livia, don't get upset, try to be patient.'This by itself would be good enough to make Montalbano an enjoyable version of the gruff but loveable old uncle. But what follows elevates him to something like a great comic creation. As he and Livia argue, parry, thrust, and make plans, Montalbano muses upon their strange contentiousness of their phone conversations:
"`You would try the patience of a saint!'
"Oh, God, not another cliche! Sow your wild oats, count your chickens before they hatch, or eat like a horse, when you're not putting the cart first!
"He realized he couldn't put up with this conversation much longer. Aside from the clichés and stock phrases, he couldn't stand the sallies of cheap psychoanalysis that Livia all too often liked to indulge in -- the kind of stuff you get in American movies ... "
"The best of it was that this animosity remained independent of the unshakable intensity of their relationship. But then why, when talking on the phone, did they quarrel, on average, at least once every four sentences? Maybe, thought the inspector, it was an effect of the distance between them becoming less and less tolerable with each passing day, since as we grow old ... we feel ever more keenly the need to have the person we love beside us."That's lovely, I think, an aching and tender insight, and its resonance grows when one reflects that Camilleri was about eighty years old when the novel was published in 2005. But the scene gets better:
"As he was reasoning along these lines (and he liked this line of reasoning, as it was reassuring and banal, like the sayings one finds on the little slip of paper inside Baci Perugina chocolates) ..."Bellissimo! What a perfect topper! Montalbano is irritable, Montalbano is wistful, and Montalbano slips with comfort into banalities just as bad as those he finds so maddening in Livia. What a perfect little parable of human relations! Has anyone written about love with such tenderness and humorous understanding?
(For more rhapsodizing about Andrea Camilleri and Salvo Montalbano, read Uriah Robinson, the King of Camilleri, on his Crime Scraps blog.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2007Technorati tags:
Italian crime fiction