I’m Not Scared – Niccolo Ammaniti

A few people have mentioned to me before that I might rather like Niccolo Ammaniti’s rather dark novel ‘I’m Not Scared’. It was Rob of Rob Around Books mentioning of it as a great summer read a while back that propped it firmly on the bedside table. Since it was mentioned then more and more people have emailed or left comments saying that I definitely had to give it a go and despite my slight concern over the quote ‘sucks you in like the Blair Witch’ I thought ‘why not?’ and picked it up.

Canongate Books, paperback, translatd by Jonathan Hunt, 2004, fiction, 208 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I didn’t really know what to expect from ‘I’m Not Scared’, I knew from the blurb that the premise of this novel was six children exploring in the Italian countryside during the summer. One of the group, nine-year-old Michele Amitrano, discovers much more than he bargained for, something so shocking he cannot tell a soul and naturally this changes his life and the way he views things forever.  However I was wrong with automatically thinking I knew what he would find and did get rather a shock especially as the book twists on. This does sound somewhat a ‘coming of age’ novel which isn’t a genre/theme that tends to work terribly well for me but add the slight thriller feel to the novel and the mystery that keeps you turning the pages… and you have me reading it in two sittings (I could have done it in one but selfishly I had work to do).

Now this is one of those books where if I gave anything else away I would be ruining it for anyone new to the book, not to helpful for a review, and so I shall not add too much more in terms of the plot. I did want to mention though, because I found it rather an interesting twist, that I personally thought Michele didn’t tell anyone in part because of the shock and because he isn’t quite sure what to make of what he finds he doesn’t tell but also because its something only he knows and as a child I remembered how precious that feeling was (though thankfully I never discovered anything quite like Michele does). Which nicely illustrates how Ammaniti does really put you in the mind of Michele, even if sometimes you find his reactions to things aren’t quite what yours would be – how could they be he’s a nine year old and so of course he wouldn’t.

That did take me a little time to get used to but once I got it I thoroughly enjoyed it and it reminded me of certain feeling you have as a child, like being chased through the woods (in Michele’s case he actually might be) or down roads by some unseen thing at night. I found that what hadn’t instantly gelled with me became very evocative as I read on.

I can completely understand why Rob mentioned this makes a perfect summer read, some may say the subject matter isn’t summery but I am of a mind that reads of any season sometimes need to be slightly uncomfortable and leave you thinking, this does just that. The heat of the Italian summer hits you on almost every page and for me personally gave this ‘coming of age’ thriller a sort of southern gothic feel (without being in America which I know defeats the point but hopefully you get what I am driving at) not because anything supernatural happens but because in this Italian village in the middle of nowhere you begin to learn nothing is quite what it seems and something dark lies behind its sunny façade. The fact it’s also very well written; and indeed very well translated by Jonathan Hunt; along with also being a very intelligent and gripping tale only makes it an even greater read regardless of season.

A book that will: leave you thinking and surprise you in more ways than one. 8/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn – Another thriller seen from a wonderful child narrators eyes in part. Only set in Birmingham rather than the heat of Italy.
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson – Okay so you might want to start at the beginning of this marvellous series but the last one (very excited about the new one coming soon) had the wonderful Reggie, though seven years older than Michele, trying to work out life’s mysteries and certainly coming to terms with mortality.
(Note my little brother was sat with me while I typed this and said that I should compare this to Batman: The Return of the Scarecrow which has just made me howl with laughter.)

So who else has read ‘I’m Not Scared’? Anyone read any of the other Ammaniti novels? I will definitely be reading more of his stuff in the future, so thank you again to all of you who recommended this book!

24 Comments

Filed under Canongate Publishing, Niccolo Ammaniti, Review

24 responses to “I’m Not Scared – Niccolo Ammaniti

  1. henrietta

    I too enjoyed this when I read it. The long sense of summer stretching before you as a child, is beautifully evoked. The torpid heat, the bicycle, the “camp” and the way in which the parents and adults are viewed I thought brilliantly portayed life from a childs point of view. I felt Micheles’ fear and bewilderment. I believe there is or soon will be a film of this.

    • I agree with the senses you had as a child being brought to the fore I just didn’t initially find it that easy to get into or maybe that should be go back to as Ammaniti does it so well.

      • m

        The film came out some years ago and it’s just as good as the book: don’t want to give away any spoilers but I remember gasping out loud. If you ever get the chance to see it on a big screen, rather than DVD, it’s definitely worth it.

  2. Deb

    I had a completely different response to this book. I found it very disturbing (I always find it difficult to read books where a child is in danger or has been physically abused in any way) and would not categorize it as a great summer read. I’d say, if you have a strong stomach and don’t get “reader anxiety” over scenes involving endangered children, I’m sure this could be an interesting (as opposed to entertaining) book–but as for me, I couldn’t hack it.

    • I get where your coming from Deb, I think its like what I saud about Belinda Bauer’s ‘Blacklands’ which was that despite the books subject it was very readable. I dont think books should always be comfortable or light to be a good book, in fact if they were it would be dull, whatever the season.

  3. I’ve not read the book, but have seen the movie so I know the plot. You should definitely do yourself a favor and rent it…it is very well-done.

  4. I haven’t read any of his books. But Italy, summer, mystery – I’m sold!

  5. novelinsights

    This sounds excellent and you’ve also reminded me that I need to read more Kate Atkinson!

  6. I’ve heard of this book, someone recommended it to me once but didn’t tell me much about it. It sounds really good- if dark.

  7. Glad you enjoyed this one, Simon. I have very fond memories of it. And I remember being shocked/devastated by the ending.

    • You were one of the many who said I should read it a while back, I just worried if I mentioned you again people might think there was some ulterior motive going on hahaha.

  8. Jo

    I’m a huge Ammaniti fan, and I’m lucky to be able to read him in the original Italian as not much has been translated. I’m sure this will change, but Take me Away is available in the meantime – longer and very different to I’m not Scared, but if you enjoy the freshness and authenticity of the child’s perspective in I’m not Scared, then definitely worth tracking down a copy. And he evokes the magic in essentially mundane Italian landscapes as efectively as he does the fleeting magic of those last childish summers when adulthood is already encroaching. In Italian Ammantiti has published fantastic short stories, too, which I hope will be available in translation soon.

    • Oh I do envy the fact you can read the originals. I have Crossroads on the TBR pile and will be reading that one in due course. I think Take Me Away might be known as Steal You Away here. I could be wrong but if they are the same one will look it up.

  9. I’ve had this book on my shelf forever, Simon. Maybe I should get to it sooner rather than later.

  10. Bet

    I finished this book last night, Simon. I was very impressed with the author’s handling of the thought-processes and emotions of a 9 yo boy– very realistic and it certainly created sympathy on my part. However, I found the ending very disatisfying.

    • The ending leaves everything up to you a little, well it did for me which I like because it means the author trusts the reader to make of it what they will but at the same time sometimes you need some clarity.

  11. Am a huge Ammaniti fan – lovely review. I Am Not Scared is one of my favorite books. Have you read his Crossroads yet?

  12. Pingback: Me and You – Niccolo Ammaniti | Savidge Reads

  13. Pingback: Out in the Open – Jesus Carrasco | Savidge Reads

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