Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Michael Dibin's Italian overtures

You know those novels each of whose short opening chapters introduces one character? I finally figured out what such introductions remind me of: the overture to an opera, in which each little musical theme stands for one character or one predominant situation or emotion from the piece that is to follow.

That's how Michael Dibdin's Back to Bologna begins. In the first chapter, two amusingly disgruntled police officers find a body that may be that of a prominent businessman. Call that a lively introduction that ends in a burst of percussion. In the next, we meet the worried protagonist, Aurelio Zen, out of step with his lover, his job and even himself as he recovers from surgery. The tempo here is slow, melancholy, and the key might be mournful minor with a passage here and there in a livelier major key (Zen is, after all, the hero.)

Next come two students and the Romanian girlfriend of one, and after that Zen's lover, Gemma. Her theme, like Zen's, might be more complex than the others, since her chapter has her thinking about Zen, and Zen's has him thinking about her.

And now I'll stop with the music because I don't want to take this too far. But it's at least plausible for Dibdin if for anyone. He wrote an entire Aurelio Zen novel, Cosi Fan Tutti, using the plot of Mozart's almost identically named opera.

And now, use your imagination, readers: Back to Bologna's beginning is reminiscent of opera. What crime fiction reminds you of something else? Whose prose style or narrative structure reminds you of music or city traffic or guns firing or a gently babbling brook (or of anything babbling gently, for that matter)?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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2 Comments:

Anonymous LauraR said...

David Peace. In Tokyo Year Zero, he uses some unusual language structures - to emphasise his "hero's" torment, and to emphasis the irritating nature of the noise and lice plaguing him.

October 16, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

That's a good example. The opening chapters, at least, sound like banging hammers. The noise, the lice, the fatigue and the constant illness leave no space for long, lyrical passages.

October 16, 2007  

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