Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reasonable doubts

This title of this post is deliberately simple. It’s the title of the book in question, the third of Gianrico Carofiglio’s novels about the Italian defense lawyer Guido Guerrieri. I chose it in part because of passages like this one:

“I broke off, but too late. I was about to say, even supposing your husband is telling the truth – and supposing doesn’t mean conceding – proving it, or at least creating a reasonable doubt, will be extremely difficult. I broke off because I didn’t want to reawaken her more than reasonable doubts.”
That’s Guerrieri talking to the wife of a client jailed and accused of smuggling forty kilograms of cocaine from Montenegro into Italy. Look how much Carofiglio tells us about Guerrieri in three simple sentences. He’s lawyerly, he’s good-hearted, he’s humorous, and he sends the narrative off in two directions: toward Guerrieri’s case, and toward his relationship with the client’s wife. Reasonable doubts (a literal translation of the Italian title) does double duty in its legal sense and its everyday sense.

The passage is ironical for a third reasonable doubt, unstated here: Guerrieri’s own doubts about the case. Or perhaps those doubts are implied in that second sentence, with its stops, starts, hedges and changes of direction that contain a humorous hint of Dickens. In any case, it helps make Guerrieri an enormously appealing protagonist, more so than he would be if he were just another good-guy lawyer fighting for the downtrodden. (I'll guess that the smoothly delivered multiple meanings are a tribute to the translator, Howard Curtis.)

Before I stop typing and resume reading, I'll ask you to think about titles. Reasonable Doubts applies to the novel's action in least three senses. That makes it a hell of an appropriate title. What titles can you think of that work similarly, surprisingly well?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

In the Expletive Deleted collection Laura Lippman has a short story called A Good **** Spoiled. Its about a man who is having an affair. He uses golf as an excuse to get away from his wife and into the arms of his mistress. His mistress then wants him to leave his wife and marry her instead. This doesn't go over too well with him. So then the title could refer to the old saying about golf, that it is a good walk spoiled, or it could mean that a good f**k was spoiled. Either way the asterisks in place of the key word adds a layer to the title.

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd say that title could have worked at least as well had it dropped the asterisks and used the full expletive. Such a title would have worked literally and also by humorous allusion to the old saying. It might have hampered the story's chances for mainstream publication, though.

January 04, 2008  
Blogger Simona Carini said...

I have not read the book yet: I hope you are enjoying it. I like a lot what you wrote in this post.

January 07, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I am enjoying it; I read a bit more of it this evening.

I think the translator did a good job, and Carofiglio's Bari has a feature that I wish existed in my city: A combination bookstore and bar open from 11 at night until 6 in the morning.

January 07, 2008  

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