Friday, October 08, 2010

Stripped down in Sicily

"(H)aving to write down the things he saw and the anxiety this caused him sharpened his ability to select, to pare down, to express things pithily, so that only what was sound and perceptive remained in the net of his writing. Such may be the case with Italian writers from the south, especially Sicilians — in spite of school, university and lots of reading."
That's from A Simple Story, a novella by the late, great Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia newly reissued by Hesperus Press, and I'm eager to see how the wittily self-reflective sentiment of the last sentence will play out in the story.

For now, the passage's meditation on the power of spare expression reminds me that stripped-down writing can induce shivers of recognition, a feeling that the author is onto something essential. Jean-Patrick Manchette does this and, based on my recent reading of the Continental Op stories, I'd say Dashiell Hammett does, too.

Who's your favorite creator of stripped-down prose? And is Sciascia's narrator right? Do Sicilian authors have a special talent for expressing the essential?

(Howard Curtis, who translates from French and Italian, has carved out a nice niche in hard-boiled and neo-noir. In addition to A Simple Story, his translations include Caryl Férey's Zulu, Jean-Claude Izzo's Marseilles trilogy, and works by Gianrico Carofiglio.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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6 Comments:

Blogger Solea said...

I'm glad to see Sciascia being reissued. Lucky for me there is a Sciascia stash at my local library. Being tight-lipped and parsimonius with explanations about overwhelming life issues is certainly one of the many Sicilian stereotypes. You wouldn't want to blow a possible streak of good luck (or invite even more bad luck) with a bunch of hopeful chatter, would you? I think it's a kind of coping strategy for having to endure a lot of crap. Although not Sicilian, Massimo Carlotto is my favorite contemporary hard-boiled Italian author. You know my other favorite, Camilleri, who's Montalbano is kind of the opposite of the Sicilian stereotype, whereas Catarella is the stereotype of provincial stripped down Cat-isms.

October 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I'd never have thought of Catarella and his -isms as stripped-down anything.

Camilleri certainly is eloquent on Sicilians' having to put up with a lot of crap. And he pays occasional tribute to Leonardo Sciascia in his Montalbano novels.

October 08, 2010  
Blogger Solea said...

Did you like Il Fuggiasco? I don't see much Massi love on DBB. Did you ever watch Mad Monster Party? Did you ever start to read Fletch? I just bought Zulu and I can't wait to read it. What are you reading on the plane out to SF?

October 09, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Whoa, that's a lot of questions.

I've never read much Carlotto. I did find the beginning of one of his books a bit of a turn-off -- a bit lurid for my tastes. And the beginning of Poisonville, which should have a certain attraction for Hammett readers, didn't grab me.

I browsed some Fletch at a good secondhand store in the neuighborhood but did not find the first book. And I don't know yet what I'll read on the plane -- if I'm not doing some late craming for my panels. I should be finished the latest Camilleri to appear in English by then, the translation of Pista di Sabbia.

The Zulu controversy is interesting. I will query my South African panelists on the subject. Since one of them is the person who first recommended Zulu to me, there is the potential for an interesting discussion of writing as an outside vs. writing as an insider, among other matters.

October 10, 2010  
Blogger Solea said...

With Carlotto, you need to begin with IL Fuggiasco to understand where his noir comes from. Then you have to read Death's Dark Abyss & The Goodbye Kiss. Then you should read at least one of the "Alligator series" with a glass of calvados of course. I believe Fuggiasco is translated by Howard Curtis as well. Yes, Posionville is different from his other novels, perhaps because it is co-written with someone else, but I still find it important because it brings to light "green noir". DBB is such a great blog, I don't think you can just skip Massi!
Also, Fletch is readily available in your local library. Start with Fletch Won, Fletch, or Confess, Fletch (in this one you meet Inspector Flynn too).

October 10, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know something about his background; I guess Il Fuggiasco would bring that background to life.

And thanks for the Fletch reading list. By coincidence, I read an article about Gregory MacDonald this week. He was more prolific and more widely accomplished than I realized.

October 10, 2010  

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