Sunday, February 04, 2007

Camilleri and "mystery"

The cover of The Smell of the Night proclaims the book "An Inspector Montalbano Mystery." The novel is a mystery, all right, but not in the way of Golden Age mysteries or a newer novel like Adrian Hyland's excellent Diamond Dove.

The book's approach to detection is a kind of hybrid. For about the first two thirds of the novel, the focus is very much more on atmosphere, character, characters, and incidental action, in the manner of Georges Simenon, whom Montalbano likes to read when he has time to relax (and is not worrying about his lover, Livia, or enjoying a large and delicious meal). Toward the end of the novel, though, Montalbano gathers two assistants to review the evidence and discuss theories about the disappearance of a crooked financier and his assistant. Sounds like a traditional police-procedural scene, yes? Not quite. Here's Montalbano opening the session:

"All right," said the inspector. "But let me preface this by saying that what I'm about to describe is a novel. In the sense that there isn't the slightest trace of proof for any of it. And, as in all novels, as the story gets written, events sometimes go their own way, leading to unforeseen conclusions."

There is no straightforward unfolding of the facts here. It's almost as if Camilleri grew exasperated first with the potential for observation to solve a crime, so he turned to traditional techniques but realized these, too, were insufficient. Hence, the motif of the investigator as a storyteller, hoping his story makes sense.

In his leisure time, too, Montalbano is attracted to the idea of solving a crime more through observation of character than through conventional techniques, but the approach never seems quite satisfactory. He never does get far in that Simenon novel he keeps trying to read throughout The Smell of the Night.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous andrea said...

Peter, i agree with you. The Best of Camilleri aren't police and investigation stories. Camilleri, in my opinion, is a good storyteller expecially describing the sicilian social contest and mixing the tragedy of his histories with the enormous Montalbano and others character's simpathy. Montalbano is a truly protagonist.
I think that, even if, the translator is capable it is almost impossible for him to succeed the transmission ideas of sicilian dialect in english.
Excuse me for my bad english...
A presto, Andrea

February 05, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

In the English version of L'odore della notte, the translator uses many English cliches. I would like to see that the Italian equivalents are. Also, the characters Adelina and Catarella use broken English. Adelina misspells many words and drops the endings of others. Catarella pronounces words the wrong way, confuses one word for another, and mixes parts of different words together.

In both cases, I think, Camilleri wants to show us characters who are sympathetic but not well-educated. A reader in Italian would be able to understand this right away, from the way the characters speak and write. But a translator has the difficult job of using English to convey the same message in English.

I saw your comment about Le ali della sfinge, and I'll try to read it. It may take my a while. My understanding of Italian is not good!

February 05, 2007  

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