Sunday, March 01, 2009

Excursion to Tindari

Andrea Camilleri was over seventy years old when he wrote Excursion to Tindari. His protagonist, Salvo Montalbano, was fifty. The novel's closing pages contain as rueful and touching a meditation on age, crime and the passage of time as any I can think of. This passage is a tease, but a tease is better than spoiler, so don't complain:
"[Montalbano] himself had reacted the way he did, nearly suffering a stroke. Whereas Mimi had turned pale, yes, but didn't really seem too upset. Self-control? Lack of sensitivity? No, the reason was clearly much simply: the difference in age. He was fifty and Mimi was thirty. Augello was already prepared for the year 2000, whereas he would never be. Nothing more. Augello naturally knew that he was entering an era of pitiless crimes committed by anonymous people, who had Internet addresses or sites or whatever they're called, but never a face, a pair of eyes, an expression. No, he was too old by now."
There's a fair bit of understanding, insight and resignation there, I'd say. That paragraph is the early leader in the race for my favorite piece of reading of 2009, or maybe even my favorite since I started this crime-fiction thing.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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54 Comments:

Blogger Fred said...

I was intrigued by your comments about Camilleri's novel. I've read only the first two novels in the series and have enjoyed them. The philosophical ruminations that appear now and then are one of the attractions of his works.

I'm slowly expanding my readings in foreign (I live in the US) mysteries and his are my favorite Italian mysteries. I've read several other authors who provided an Italian setting, but I didn't find them interesting.

March 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note. Here's a Web site that should help you find more mysteries with Italian settings:

http://italian-mysteries.com/

What I like about the Camilleri novels from about "Patience of the Spider" onward is combination of sensitivity, humor and sharp commentary, a rare blend. Salvo Montalbano is more introspective than most crime-fiction protagonists without in the least losing his humanity, humor or believability and without descending into self-pity.

I'd say the Montalbano novels and Carlo Lucarelli's Deluca books are my favorite Italian mysteries. Among novels by non-Italian writers, you might want to try Michael Dibdin's "Cosi Fan Tutti," if you haven't read it already.

March 02, 2009  
Blogger R. T. Davis said...

I've read Camilleri's and Donna Leon's Italian mysteries, and I prefer Camilleri's. Camilleri's characterizations, plotting, and themes lift his work far above the too frequently banal quality of genre mystery writing. I think Camilleri deserves more attention from readers in America.

March 02, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter Rozovsky,

Thanks for the link.

I mentioned in a previous post that I disagreed with the mystery discussion group I belong to about Donna Leon. They were quite satisfied with her. I wasn't.

It should be interesting to see what the group reaction in June will be when we take up Michael Dibdin's _Cosi Fan Tutti_.

March 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., Camilleri is a rare phenomenon is crime fiction, an author who could appeal even to readers not normally interested in crime. I have read that he was a friend of Leonardo Sciascia, another Sicilian author who looked hard at the society of which he was part and happened to do so through the medium of crime stories. I could also imagine women enjoying Camilleri for the books' exploration of Montalbano's stormy but loving relationship with Livia. Especially after "Patience of the Spider," the books become explorations of love in addition to mysteries, satires, character comedies, and so on. His books are rich in content, in other words.

Sciascia was probably a bit more socially oriented and Camilleri a bit more character-oriented, but if you like Camilleri, you might also like Sciascia. Start with "The Day of the Owl."

March 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, you might like "Cosi Fan Tutti" for its sheer narrative audacity. You'll know what I mean when you read the book.

March 02, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Sciascia? The Day of the Owl? Ok, I'll add him to my search list. I've never heard of him, and the public library doesn't have anything by him.

Time for safaris to the used bookstores...

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

"sheer narrative audacity"?

Sounds intriguing. I suspect some members of the discussion group will be a bit unhappy. Too much audaciousness may scare some away from that meeting.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's a Wikipedia article about "The Day of the Owl": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_of_the_Owl

The book's opening scene is chilling, and it state the theme forcefully: how crime seeps into the very fiber of everyone's daily life. (Keep in mind that the story is set n Sicily, so it's not hard to figure out what sort of crime Sciascia wrote about.)

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You'll know right from the beginning that the story is being told in an odd (and, I think, interesting) way. I may not have found out until after read the book just why the storytelling was so clever, but once I did, I marvelled that Dibdin would even try what he did, much less pull it off.

March 03, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

Peter, have you forgot the hyperlink formula?

(a href="whatever you want to link to")a description of the link(/a)

and change the above parentheses to < and >

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco, my mental powers are as strong as ever, but I am away from my computer. At home, I just copy the correct coding from a file. Here, I don't have access to that file. But thanks to you, I can get the formula now.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Thanks, I'll watch for it when I work my way up or is it down to it?

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Let me know what you think ... and whether you catch some of the clues Dibdin plants.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger R. T. Davis said...

Well, you've talked me into it.
I'm off to the library and the used book stores later this afternoon for a copy of the Didbin and some of the Italian mysteries you all have been chatting about. I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, it is back to the university classroom grind (where less than eager students reluctantly discuss literature). By the way, I envy your blogging savvy. As a woefully inept neophyte, I have much to learn.

March 03, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

Ok, this is what I've posted yesterday on Crime Scene NI:

My selection of the best Italian (crime) fiction available in translation, only one title per author (hard choice), would be, in alphabetical order:

Camilleri - The Terracotta Dog
Carlotto - Death's Dark Abyss
Lakhous - Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio
Lucarelli - The Damned Season
Saviano - Gomorrah


You could also look out for the Gomorrah movie, which has won a couple of awards and has been almost universally well received

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I don't know what encouragement I can offer you about your students. I wasn't worth shite as a reader until after I left college.

In blogging, keep it short, write it well, post regularly, have fun.

I hope you enjoy the books.

March 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marco: I'd pick a later Camilleri novel, and I haven't read Saviano, but that looks like a pretty good list.

So, Leonardo Sciascia is "literary" fiction and not crime, I presume? Is he regarded as such in Italy?

March 03, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

I was going for contemporary authors in the list, but surely you could add Sciascia' s Day of the Owl.
It is considered "literary" but his noir novels are also analyzed as part of that tradition.
I think for an Italian critic or even a normal reader it's the political/social aspect that overshadows other considerations, however.

My ugly v-word is cancer and Sciascia often called the Mafia "a destructive cancer corroding Italy"

March 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The political/social aspect predominates for me, too, in Sciascia. I just wanted to avoid suggested that he transcended his genre.

You have a good string of v-words going.

March 04, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

You won't believe it, but my next one is....

.... (suspence)....

....


peter.

Really.

March 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ay, caramba. I'm tempted to say that's too good to be true, but I know you would not joke about a matter of such high seriousness.

March 04, 2009  
Anonymous marco said...

It was an extraordinary sequence, but my latest v-word, chrong, is less pregnant.

March 04, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

An unparalleled sequence, I'd say, though chrong would work as a comic-strip sound effect to denote a participant getting whacked in the face with a frying pan.

March 04, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

You didn't mention my Camilleri article on the Picador blog

http://www.panmacmillan.com/picador/ManageBlog.aspx?BlogID=e6aac158-5b1d-41ff-a023-de84b7bd110c&BlogPage=Permalink

And having noted the URL I see why.;o)

March 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's the article in convenient linked form.

Uriah, for anyone reading this, is the King of Camilleri.

March 05, 2009  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Peter. The pint will be on the bar.;o)

March 05, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I shall be happy to hoist a pint of whatever the Bristolians (or Bristolites) drink.

March 05, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I enjoyed your observation on the passage in Excursion to Tindari as a meditation on age, crime and the passage of time. Camilleri expands these themes in each successive novel. Some (younger?) readers find Salvo's musings on aging irritating but as someone in Montalbano's age group I understand completely!
Camilleri is a master. I randomly picked up one novel as a fictional intro to Sicily before going there 2 years ago (loved it) and have read all of them since. Including several of the Italian ones that Stephen Sartarelli (we English readers are lucky to have such a gifted translator) hasn't translated yet -- I couldn't wait!
Regarding some other topics in this blog page...
I love Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen novels, too. Like the Montalbano novels they are more about exploring character and place than in solving puzzles. Also like the Montalbano novels, they are sequential and while, yes, Cosi Fan Tutti _is_ a narrative tour-de-force, it makes more sense -- and the reader marvels even more at Dibdin’s prose style -- when read after the previous novel, Dead Lagoon. I highly recommend beginning with the first Aurelio Zen, Ratking. In part because, unlike Montalbano's longtime relationship with Livia, Zen has more difficulties in the relationship department and his lovers change over time.
Leonardo Sciascia's "To Each His Own," mentioned in a Montalbano novel (can't remember which) is a must for the subtle ways it reveals the Sicilian character.
And, yes, the Carlo Lucarelli De Luca trilogy is fine (but could have benefited from Sartarelli's translating skills).
Finally, I'd add Magdalen Nabb's Marshal Guarnaccia mysteries set in Florence (although Guranaccia is also a Sicilian). Like Dibdin, Nabb was a "foreigner" writing with wonderful insight into the Italian character.
Donna Leon? Not on my list. Formulaic and predictable.

March 25, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Have you read the Montalbano novels in order? I first noticed the sympathy and vulnerability in The Patience of the Spider, when Salvo is moved near to tears by the presence of Livia, with whom he is more likely to be squabbling.

I'd call the opening scene of Sciascia's Day of the Owl the supreme exploration of the Sicilian character, or at least of crime's corrosive effect on that character.

I haven't yet read Donna Leon, but I have heard that he has not allowed her work to be translated into Italian. Without knowing her reasons for this, I took it as a sign of respect and commendable humility on her part.

March 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and mille grazie for that thoughtful, comprehensive review of Italian crime fiction.

March 26, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Camilleri, Nabb, and Dibdin are all good writers, with Camilleri perhaps being my favorite of three.

I read two of Leon's and won't bother with a third. I read a second because everybody else in the discussion group liked the first one, so I wanted to try another. It was ridiculous. If the cop had asked on page three whether this could have been a suicide, there would have been no novel.

March 26, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Last year, before tackling the Italian-language Montalbano novels and short stories, I went back and re-read, rather quickly, the ones that had been translated, in order of publication. I had not read them in sequence the first time.
I think Salvo's real introspection begins in "Excursion to Tindari," when he muses on his "60s Generation" and the events of the pivotal year of 1968 as well as the differences between his generation and Mimi's.
But you are, I think, correct in pegging Salvo's dawning sense of vulnerability to his period of recuperation in "The Patience of the Spider." It is expanded upon in each novel thereafter and manifests itself in different ways -- some physical, some mental, some emotional.
I think Camilleri very deliberately makes the relationship between Salvo and Livia shakier and shakier with each novel because of the historical convention in crime fiction to not allow great detectives permanent and/or stable relationships.
Did you know that Camilleri, concerned that he might get Alzheimer's disease before completing Montalbano's saga, has already submitted the final novel to his publisher? He says that in it Salvo (age 60) will not sit around collecting his pension, will not marry Livia, and will not be killed.

March 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elizabeth: I wrote in an earlier post that "I'll make a tentative guess that Camilleri began to emphasize the personal, tender touch with Excursion to Tindari, fifth in the series."

I noticed both the musing on the events of 1968 and the differences between Montalbano's generation and Mimi's. I was impressed that the attitude was one of resignation rather than of bitterness, anger or righteous disappointment. Camilleri makes the relationship with Livia so convincing that it had not occurred to me that his might be in adherence to the crime-fiction convention you mentioned. Nor did I know that Camilleri has planned for the series' conclusion in the manner you mentioned. It does not surprise me, though, that he will avoid the easy melodrama of marriage or death.

March 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I discussed Donna Leon yesterday with a friend who has read several of the books. What's the appeal? I asked. The answer was that Leon gives a fairly good picture of the inner workings of Venice. I can well imagine that peek behind the scenes of such a romantic city might well have considerable appeal.

March 28, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

Let me throw something else into the mix with respect to the Donna Leon books. While I commented earlier that I prefer Camilleri to Leon, I have had some pleasant experiences with the Leon books. No one is going to jump up and down claiming her books are top-of-the-line detective/crime novels, but they are simple entertainments that are nice diversions now and then from the more mind-bending and more violent offerings that are published within the genre. Besides, there is plenty of room in the marketplace for well-written entertainments, and Leon fills that niche rather nicely.

March 28, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

For readers who are annoyed or baffled by Donna Leon's success, they can be further annoyed and baffled by Toni Sepeda's recent book entitled BRUNETTI'S VENICE: WALKS WITH THE CITY'S BEST-LOVED DETECTIVE. The book is sort of an annotated tourist guide to Venice for Leon fans who want to seek out locales featured in her novels. Will this little "travel guide" (with excerpts from Leon's novels included) be a success? Who knows. Is it rather unnecessary? Perhaps. Does it underscore Leon's popularity? Absolutely. Will readers annoyed with or uninterest in Leon be further irked by or even less interested in BRUNETTI'S VENICE? What do you think?

March 28, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I agree: a strong setting might make up for a weak plot or other deficiencies in the tale. However, in this case, it didn't work for me. I'm glad others find enjoyment in her work. This keeps her doing something she probably enjoys.

March 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I had recently heard about the Brunetti's Venice book. That is quite a testament to her popularity, the sort of publication that the J.K. Rowlings of the world inspire. I also remember flipping through one of the novels that had interesting opening: Paola Brunetti throwing a rock through a shop window.

I agree that readers annoyed with Donna Leon might be annoyed by the book about Brunetti's Venice. But more power to any author, especially any crime author, who can achieve that kind of success.

March 29, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oddly enough, I don't think I generally weigh up a book's deficiencies and strong points. I don't know how long Donna Leon has lived in Italy. It's tempting to wonder if the series is a continuing effort to work out her attitudes toward the city. A newcomer's attitudes probably change constantly, or at least until she's so successful that she starts writing purely for the noble motive of money.

March 29, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

Am I annoyed by the success of Donna Leon? No, why should I be? I'm in two mystery discussion groups, and we have different tastes. Some like Leon, some don't. Some, me for example, think Eliot Pattison's "Tibetan" mysteries are great, while others don't--a matter of taste.

I see no reason for being annoyed because others enjoy writers whom I don't.

March 30, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

Paola's "civil disobedience" in the form of a rock through the window becomes the catalyst for her husband's inquiries into a rather sordid series of crimes. To say more would involve offering a "spoiler."

March 30, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I read a review that discussed that sordid series of crimes. I thought the not-so-civil disobedience was a clever way to enter the story. Whether it was consistent with Paola Brunetti's character and whether it worked narratively, I don't know, but it's apt to draw the reader into the story and keep him or her guessing.

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Am I annoyed by the success of Donna Leon? No, why should I be? I'm in two mystery discussion groups, and we have different tastes. Some like Leon, some don't. Some, me for example, think Eliot Pattison's "Tibetan" mysteries are great, while others don't--a matter of taste."

I don't remember ever finding a book that I completed bad. At the very least, if I stuck with a book from beginning to end, some aspect of it held my interest -- quite a number of aspects in Eliot Pattison's case.

March 31, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

I've also finished books that I wasn't really enthusiastic about. Sometimes it's just because the book is the selection of a discussion group.



Fred's Place
http://tinyurl.com/5urlla

April 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're a better man than I. I find something in a book to hold my interest, or else I give up.

April 01, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

However, there is a page limit. If the book is over 250 pages and there's nothing to hold my interest, I give up on it.

April 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I often rely on the opening to keep me going. That does not mean the story must open amid smoking guns and dead bodies; a slow buildup such as Fred Vargas' can work just fine. But if something -- the action, a striking bit of dialogue or descriotion, or an intriguing premise -- don't hook me right away, I'm apt to put the book aside.

April 02, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

That's true for me also. Something has to grab me, early on, or I'll put it aside, either for a time or for all time.

If I can make it half way, I'll usually stay with it to the bitter end. Generally it's anywhere from 10 pages to 1/4 or perhaps 1/3 of the book.

April 07, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"SSCs. Death was too good for them."

That's the first line of my current book. It made me want to keep reading, if only to find out what SSCs are.

April 08, 2009  
Blogger Fred said...

SSC's

Yes, I'd be curious also.



This is the first line of Sinclair Lewis' _Elmer Gantry_, which I just started reading.

"Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was lovingly and pugnaciously drunk."

That grabbed me--"lovingly and pugnaciously" are two modifiers I hadn't heard applied to being inebriation before.

April 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is an excellent opening line for precisely the reason you suggest. It makes me want to read the book and maybe rent the movie, too.

April 08, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

Okay, so this isn't exactly on-the-subject that started this threaded exchange, but here is one of the great opening lines (well, two lines) from contemporary literature (which could also be described, I suppose, as a mystery), Toni Morrison's BELOVED: "124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom." That opening is a seductive hook that sets itself firmly into the reader's mind and reels the hapless reader into a gut-wrenching narrative.

You know, P.R., you could begin a whole new fascinating exchange by seeking out readers' favorite opening lines from international detective fiction. Let me begin by offering something from Qui Xiaolong's THE MAO CASE: "Chief Inspector Chen Cao was in no mood to speak at the political studies meeting of the Shanghai Police Bureau's Party committee." As a reader, I know instantly that something not-quite-Maigret is going on here.

April 08, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., I've had that discussion here. It's a topic of enduring interest.

I'd agree with you the first line of The Mao Case. Qiu's first novel, Death of a Red Heroine, has one of my favorite opening chapters.

April 08, 2009  

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