Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Dance of the Seagull: How Camilleri gets better and better

Fifteen books into his Inspector Salvo Montalbano series (with several titles yet to translated from Italian/Sicilian/Camillerian into English), Andrea Camilleri manages both to offer readers the pleasures they've grown to expect and to vary the ingredients and add enough emotional depth to keep the series from growing tired.

In Book Fourteen (The Age of Doubt), for example, two sentences in, and Salvo is already cursing the saints. In the fifteenth and latest novel, Dance of the Seagull, Salvo does not curse the saints until Page 104, and for me the deferred pleasure is like that gained by letting a vintage port age just a few years more. ("Cursing the saints" is translator Stephen Sartarelli's ingenious and entertaining rendering of an untranslatable Sicilian verb. In a comment to an earlier blog post, Sartarelli tells Detectives Beyond Borders the origins of "cursing the saints.")

Camilleri has said he "deliberately decided to smuggle in a critical commentary on my times," but the jabs, while sharper than ever, have become more human over time. The exasperated vitriol aimed at government and Mafia remains, but now laying bare more than in earlier books the human consequences of the misdeeds at which he rails.

Indeed, an increasingly human touch makes this one of the rare long-running crime series that arguably grow stronger with time. Camilleri was 68 years old when the first book appeared, and he recently turned 87. The titles available in English have taken Salvo from his forties to age 57, complete with amusing and touching descriptions of the aches and pains of aging.

In recent books Salvo has grown more tender toward his lover, Livia, and more appreciative of what his colleagues mean to him. In The Dance of the Seagull, the humanity takes the form of Salvo's new revulsion at the savagery whose results he witnesses as he investigates a pair of murders, and the introspection and empathy manifest themselves from the beginning. (The title refers to a seagull's dance of death that Salvo witnesses from his seaside home and that haunts him throughout the novel. Camilleri integrates the dream into the mystery more skillfully that he done in earlier books. He's beginning to get the hang of this Montalbano thing.)

Fans of the excellent Italian television series based on the Montalbano novels and starring Luca Zingaretti, telecast with English subtitles on MHz Networks and available on DVD, will enjoy this little argument between Salvo and Livia:
"`Well, I wouldn't want them to be shooting.' 
" `What are you talking about? Shooting what?' 
"`I wouldn't want to run into a film crew shooting an episode of that television series right as we're walking around there ... They film around there, you know.' 
"`What the hell do you care?' 
"`What do you mean, what the fell do I care? And what if I find myself face to face with the actor who plays me? ... What's his name—Zingarelli ...' 
"`His name's Zingaretti, stop pretending you don't know Zingarelli's a dictionary. But I repeat: What do you care? How can you still have these childish complexes at your age?' 
"`What's age got to do with it?' 
"`Anyway, he doesn't look the least bit like you.' 
"`That's true.' 
"`He's a lot younger than you.' 
"Enough of this bullshit about age. Livia was obsessed!"
© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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10 Comments:

Blogger Simona said...

I recently read again the first Montalbano, The Shape of Water. It was a very interesting experience, going back to the early novel with all the knowledge of the ones that followed. As you know, there are already others after The Dance of the Seagull, so Camilleri is letting us see how Montalbano ages. It was also interesting to read the first Wallander novel and the stories that show Wallander's early life (they reminded me of the collection The Young Montalbano). I wrote about those two characters in separate posts, but I am thinking that one of these days I may try making a comparison.

March 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I might find it interesting to reread the earlier Montalbano novels since I have enjoyed the series more as Montalbano and Camilleri have aged. And I'm afraid my Italian is not good enough to allow me to read Il commissario Montalbano. Le prime indagini. I wonder if there are plans to have the book translated into English.

March 25, 2013  
Blogger Solea said...

I made the mistake of watching this episode in the series before reading the book...I'm waiting till my beach day during spring break to read it!
I am surprised to read in your post that Livia & Salvo are back together, considering the intense feelings he had for Laura in Age of Doubt.



March 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Livia's appearance in this book is brief, without the smoldering aftereffects that such appearances would have in earlier books. So, while she and Salvo have not broken up, the intensity of their relaitonship has waned. And Camilleri has already said that thre two don't wind up married. Looks as if the relationship ios winding down slowly.

March 26, 2013  
Blogger Simona said...

Just wait...

March 29, 2013  
Blogger Simona said...

I meant a couple of things, but mainly that Camilleri is writing some two Montalbano novels a year and he has not indicated that he's about to stop. He may surprise us yet.

It appears that the publication of Montalbano stories (vs. novels) is not in the plan, which is sad because there are some good stories in the collections, like Gli arancini di Montalbano, where Montalbano's obsession for Adelina's famous arancini informs his actions.

And we probably talked about this before: the novels are not easy for non-native speakers, because they have words and expressions from the dialect. After many years of reading Camilleri's characteristic idiom, they have become part of my vocabulary (one of these days I'll start using some of those words when I am in Italy), but at the beginning, I figured out what they meant based on the context. I think that that would be harder for a non native speaker. Sartarelli does a great job and he certainly does not have an easy task.

March 29, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Just wait...

Simona, that's a nice tease. I have read that Camilleri had already written the last book in the series, but I learned that he is still busy writing books that will come before the end. My most recent consultation of his bibliography revealed several titles I had not come across before. The Wikipedia list of Montalbano novels keeps growing longer.`

I have probably mentioned this before, but an Italian professor has written a book about the difficulties of translating Camilleri. And I enjoyed the televisionb version of Gli arancini di Montalbano. I hope the story will eventually appear in English.

March 29, 2013  
Anonymous Stephen Sartarelli said...

Hello, Peter and Simona, never fear, the short stories of Montalbano will be appearing probably sometime next year, in a large volume based more or less on the Racconti di Montalbano compendium published by Mondadori, which is a sort of "best of" selection from the several volumes of short fiction. While it will therefore leave the bulk of the stories still untranslated, it does include "Montalbano's First Case," which is sort of a novella in itself, and if the book does well, I think another volume of stories is a possibility.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Stephen: Thanks for the welcome news. The Young Montablano television series is available in English, which suggests interest exits in Salvo's life back from a time when Luca Zingaretti had hair.

Since so much of the recent books' appeal stems from Salvo's (and, I presume, from Montalbano's) attitudes toward aging and mortality, I'll be interested in seeing how he approached stories about the younger Salvo.

April 14, 2013  
Blogger Simona said...

Thank you so much, Stephen, for sharing the good news. I am sure the collection will be much appreciated here.

Peter, I just I read that RAI is broadcasting four more Montalbano movies, starring Luca Zingaretti. They also need to keep up with Andrea Camilleri. A different actress is playing Livia, but is another foreigner in need of dubbing, so the annoying effect will still be there (I wonder why they cannot find an Italian actress for this role) http://www.kataweb.it/tvzap/2013/04/11/il-commissario-montalbano-ai-tempi-della-crisi-1146457/

April 14, 2013  

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