Saturday, February 28, 2009

Camilleri: The mystery within

I've enjoyed the increasingly tender, sympathetic world view that Andrea Camilleri gives his protagonist, Inspector Salvo Montalbano.

I've haven't read the entire series, of which ten novels have been translated into English, and the ones I have read, I've read out of series order. But I'll make a tentative guess that Camilleri began to emphasize the personal, tender touch with Excursion to Tindari, fifth in the series.

Montalbano, the novels' third-person point-of-view character, is as much a mystery, a puzzle, and a surprise to himself as the murders he is called upon to solve. "He realized he was awake," the novel begins, "as his mind was functioning logically and not following the absurd labyrinths of dreams." The first subject of Montalbano's investigation is Montalbano.

Perhaps the most mischievous personal touch is Camilleri's choice of the mystery novel that Montalbano tries to read but is continually distracted from ever finishing. In The Smell of the Night, that book was by Georges Simenon. Here the novel is by the author for whom Camilleri named Montalbano: Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. This is a puckish yet heartfelt an act of tribute and self-reference as I can think of in crime fiction.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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8 Comments:

Blogger Cullen Gallagher said...

I haven't read Camilleri before. How do the literary references work within the stories? Are there any connections between Camilleri and Simenon, or Montalban (beyond just the name)?

Thanks for pointing this book out, it sounds intriguing.

February 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The references are amusing commentaries on the stories, in that Camilleri has his protagonist reading a mystery. Sometimes he has Montalbano defend the mystery against its detractors.

I especially enjoyed the reference here because I recognized the Vazquez Montalban novel as one I had read recently.

February 28, 2009  
Blogger Gavin said...

I have not read Camilleri either and will have to add the series to my TBR list! The literary references within the the stories sound like fun.

February 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The series are very much worth reading. I prefer the more recent books, because of that sympathetic world view I mentioned.

The literary references are fun, but they are just a small part of the book. You might want to browse some of my previous posts about Camilleri for some of the other delights of these books. I'd rank the protagonist at the top of those, followed by his cast of colleagues, the troubled but fond relationship with his girlfriend, his love of good food, his stinging comments on Italian politics ...

February 28, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

Yesterday at La prova del Cuoco there was a cook from a Tuscan restaurant where Montalban used to come regularly to eat baccalà (salted cod).
On the basis of his books Bigazzi, the resident expert , cast doubts on Montalban's gastronomic knowledge, but he was interrupted and so we'll never know what his problems with MVM's recipes were.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've never had baccala in Italy, but I did have bacalao in Spain, with some nice, cold beer while I watched France beat Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final.

I would love to know what the expert would have said about Vazquez Montalban and food. I will say that I don't think the books give detailed accounts of food preparation. (Jason Goodwin, on the other hand, will do this for simple dishes, and I think Camilleri also goes into more detail.)

But if Vazquez Montalban published erroneous information about food, we ought to put McKinty on the case. He did a good job on Clive James and helicopters.

March 03, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

Not so much recipes, he was saying more something along the lines of "a true connoisseur wouldn't eat X with Y, because only W exhalts the flavor of ingredient Z" at least that's what I half understood/half imagined, because he says that a lot.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"... because he says that a lot."

He sounds like a food snob. Perhaps Vazquez Montalban would have answered that Pepe Carvalho rebelled against the established order in food as well as politics.

March 03, 2009  

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