Category Archives: Niccolo Ammaniti

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.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Canongate Publishing, Niccolo Ammaniti, Review

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