Saturday, October 31, 2009

Andrea Camilleri: Death to the information dump!

I occasionally cite what I take to be an author's clever solution to a problem. There's one such example in The Wings of the Sphinx, Andrea Camilleri's eleventh Salvo Montalbano novel, scheduled for publication in English early next year.

Camilleri's readers will have come to enjoy Montalbano's squabbles with the dedicated, ill-tempered and amusingly sarcastic pathologist Pasquano. Here, in addition to a brief insight into the sympathy of temperament between the two, Camilleri uses a shouting match between them to convey information.

By the time the antagonists have finished bellowing at each, the reader has been entertained. Just as important and perhaps more impressive, the reader knows how the murder victim was killed, about marks on her body, about traces of material found inside her fatal wound, about what she may have been wearing when she died, and about a possibly significant substance found under her fingernails.

That's a brilliant way to avoid the dreaded information dump, always a hazard when forensic pathologists come on the scene. Man, does that Camilleri ever know what he's doing.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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10 Comments:

Blogger Simona said...

Very nice note, Peter. I always enjoy the interactions between Montalbano and Dr. Pasquano, which suggest well the two levels of their relationship. I brought back from my recent trip to Italy the most recent Montalbano novel (The Seagull's Dance), but I have not yet started to read it: I am enjoying the expectation.

October 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That must be La danza del gabbiano.

I am heeding the publisher's request that I not quote from this uncorrected proof of The Wings of the Sphinx. Otherwise I'd cite examples from the amusing and ingenious interchange between Montalbano and Pasquano.

Montalbano has always respected Pasquano despite their mutual sarcasm and insults. Here, he comments on their relationship more than I remember in other books, and he notes Pasquano's revulsion at the death of young victims. That is where the sympathy between two characters is most explicit.

October 31, 2009  
Anonymous John Purssey said...

There is similar situation with Jacomuzzi, but here Montalbano has much less respect because Jacomuzzi's competence is compromised by a lack of conscientiousness, a desire for personal publicity, and his leaking of information to the media.
I borrow the books from the library so I cannot look it up at the moment, but I recall that Jacomuzzi is eventually removed from his post in the books, but is retained as a character in the TV series.

October 31, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't remember much of him in the recently translated Montalbano novels. Perhaps one might see in the books a pattern of Montalbano drawing closer to that which is more important and temperamentally nearer and dearer to him: the increasing tenderness toward Livia, this current book's emphsis on the sympathy between Montalbano and Pasquano, and so on. And Catarella does something quite wonderful with Pasquano's name that I don't remember from the earlier books.

October 31, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I wonder if Camilleri's long experience as a theatre director might not lend itself to his conjuring up inventive narrative that avoids the "information dump." That kind of exposition is even more deadly on stage than it is in film/TV. Camilleri's Montalbano novels are the only English translations of his many writings and that's a shame. For English-language readers he's a writer of superb crime fiction but for Italians he is so much more. I am loathe to say he might even be considered an "icon".

Re Jacomuzzi... He appears in many of the Montalbano short stories, some of which were made into TV episodes. I believe he exited the novels at the same time that Salvo got a new "questore" -- a hostile one, for whom Montalbano has no respect, to replace the retiring one with whom Salvo had a very cordial relationship. This was a necessary plot device if Salvo was ever to avoid the dreaded promotion which his earlier questore kept threatening him with.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I should investigate, if only at second hand, the position of Camilleri in Italian culture. This week I found an article in Italian on the Web called, if I remember right, "Star Trek in the manner of Camilleri." If someone is going to take the trouble to write something like that, Camilleri has obviously penetrated the Italian consciousness as no American crime writer since Chandler or Hammett has in this country.

November 03, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, I just went looking for that reference; it's "Star Trek alla maniera di Montalbano" and is a lament by the author for the "distressing" lack of anything Italian in the Star Trek universe -- i.e. they could go "where no man has gone before" but didn't take or meet any Italians along the way. I presume if relations between the US and Italy had been on a par with that of the US and the USSR in Star Trek's heyday Chekhov would have been an Italian...

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd sent myself a copy of the article with the attention of trying to work my way through it.

Whatever the subject, it must be significant that the author uses Montalbano to represent all things Italian.

November 03, 2009  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Absolutely. It's difficult to overestimate the impact of Montalbano in Italy, particularly because of the enormously high-ratings the TV show gets. One can hardly flip through any Italian magazine without some reference to Montalbano. I was recently looking at a high-end, avant-garde interior design mag that had a recipe for a pasta entree alla Montalbano!

November 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's hard to imagine a crime writer having that kind of impact in America -- or any kind of writer. I suppose the Bogart/trench coat look from the movies is the closest counterpart, but even that was probably less specifically tied to an individual and more to an attitude.

November 03, 2009  

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