Me and You – Niccolo Ammaniti

I have been thinking about my reading and my blogging a lot recently and one of the things I decided to do was to go back and look at authors that I really enjoyed but seemed to fall of the trail with. Some of these authors I may have only read one book of but you have to start somewhere and some of those book have haunted me years on yet I haven’t managed to play catch up with another of the authors novels. One such author is Niccolo Ammaniti, I loved ‘I’m Not Scared’ when I read it in 2010, and when I saw his latest novel/novella ‘Me and You’ at the library I swiped it up there and then.

****, Canongate Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 160 pages, translated from Italian by Kylee Doust, borrowed from the library

‘Me and You’ is told in hindsight by Lorenzo Cuni looking back on a particular week in his childhood that changed him forever. It is the summer that he told a lie, one of his most sudden and as it turns out most complicated. As a child Lorenzo never really fits in, while he loves his mother and father but has no real attachment to anyone outside of his household. After being sent away from many private schools he starts at a public one where he learns he must disguise himself as one of the other kids so as to go unnoticed, some serious psychology there. Fearing his parents are unconvinced and disappointed, when he hears a girl sorting out a skiing trip with her friends he finds himself telling his mother he has been invited too. Now he must orchestrate an elaborate lie, involving him filling the cellar with enough food and entertainment to last him a week, only what he doesn’t bank on is someone finding him, someone with bigger issues than him who also knows many of his family’s secrets.

If you think I have given the game away there too much I honestly haven’t. What I loved about ‘Me and You’ was also what I loved about ‘I’m Not Scared’ in that there is a mystery in the premise (and the blurb on the back of the book) but there is so much more going on in the novel and it has a most poignant sting in its tail that comes in a sudden twist at the end.  That should have tempted you right there!

As I mentioned this is a really psychological novel and I was really fascinated by Lorenzo’s character (you can ask for nothing more in a book can you?) the fact his is so removed from people is quite chilling. This becomes more chilling when you watch him working out how, like a real species of fly does with wasps, he starts to copy what other children do in order that people think he is ordinary. What makes it all the more calculated is that he says you must never overdo it and become a caricature simple subtly works best.

“‘But does everyone who has problems lie here?’ I asked Professor Masburger, as he pointed towards a faded brocade couch.
‘Of course. Everyone. This way you can talk more freely.’
Perfect. I would pretend to be like a normal kid with problems. It wouldn’t take much to trick him. I knew exactly  how the others reasoned, what they liked and what they wished for. And if what I knew wasn’t enough, that couch I was lying on would transfer to me, like a warm body transfers to a cold body, the thoughts of the kids that had lain there before me.
And so I told him all about a different Lorenzo.”

Apparently the psychological/scientific term for this is ‘Batesian mimicry’ looking it up on Google (I actually love it when books make me do this) I was interested to learn that this is generally something done by a ‘harmless species’ to confuse its predators, yet I am not sure that Lorenzo is initially that harmless. It appears sometimes he quite likes being the way he is and even allows the character of the predator he is mimicking to take over. This all sounds rather dark, which it is and thrillingly so, yet the other thing that I admire about Ammaniti is that while darkness is the overall atmosphere, in a brooding sense and in the fact this book is mainly set in a cellar, there is a humour running through it. We need those shades of dark and light in books don’t we, in fact I think the best books have them. Yet the humour here always has a little menace behind it.

“‘Life is sad without a sense of humour,’ I said.
‘Amen,’ answered a lady standing next to me.
My father has said this thing about a sense of humour after my cousin Vittorio had thrown a cowpat at me during a walk in the country. I was so angry I grabbed a huge rock and threw it up at a tree, while that retard rolled on the ground with laughter. Even my father and mother had laughed.”

I thought that ‘Me and You’ was a very clever book. It’s dark, brooding and packs a real emotional punch at the end, even if you think you know what that end will be. Is it wrong to say that I admire the book even more because it is short? Too late I guess as I have now, but sometimes I find myself more impressed by short novels like this where an author can create a real atmosphere throughout and build whole dysfunctional characters and their histories to life. Highly recommended.

I must read more Ammaniti, I had ‘Crossroads’ but alas it was in one of the boxes that vanished in the most recent move (how have I managed to lose a box of books every time I have moved?), fortunately my library has that and ‘Steal You Away’ so I will definitely be reading more of his work in the future. Have you read this or any of Ammaniti’s other novels, if so what did you think, or is he an author you’ve been meaning to get to?

*Apologies for not having reviewed a book in ages, am still deep in prize submissions and can’t write about those alas.

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4 Comments

Filed under Canongate Publishing, Niccolo Ammaniti, Review

4 responses to “Me and You – Niccolo Ammaniti

  1. Excellent review Simon, and it has got me looking forward to reading it! It’s definitely on my shopping list for next week. I’ve read ‘I’m not scared’ before, and I simply love Ammaniti’s writing style, so really looking forward to this one too!

  2. Geraldine

    I have read them all except Me and You which I’m getting to real soon. He’s a great writer, not to missed.

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