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Novella set in Italy

27th July 2016

Errors of Evaluation by Paola Pica, novella set in Italy.

a novella set in italyIt is a while since I read a novella and this reminded me that once in a while it is enjoyable to read a story in one sitting, there is a sense of continuation and cohesion, in other words short and sharp and to the point.

At the heart of this story is Francesca. Francesca has many of the attributes of narcissistic personality disorder and it is a brave soul who puts someone with all these complexities at the heart of their novel – it is hard to like someone who is so self absorbed, displaying an excessive need for adulation, and who perceives the world and its inhabitants through a very strange lens. All these traits the author portrays very well. However, we experience Francesca through the eyes of others looking at her and this is an alienating device. Much like Brecht, the reader has to keep their distance and look in vain for a character who demands empathy from her scrutineers.

Francesca’s acolytes (and that is what they seem to be) – she is after all the queen bee, with her drones buzzing around her – express their frustrations at how she finds herself caught up in webs of her own making, time and again. Her choice of men serves to underline her fragile inner self, although on the outside she is stunning, confident and stylish. Her men adore, cherish and obsequiously boost her ego, her very being is reflected back in their body language and their sycophantic, lingering looks. They are there to just feed her persona, just like drone bees. But when it all comes crashing down, briefly she assumes the mantle of a sentient being; she is after all supremely confident at manipulating those around but once others step in to rescue her, she reverts to type.

She does have psychological support, a professional, who is willing to take her on, but ultimately he too finds himself initially in thrall to her. He mutates into a supremely unprofessional therapist, but that is symptomatic of the subtle but profound control she can exert over others. He should however have known better.

Yes, the concept is interesting, but can the author pull it off? This novella has the feel of a story created in film by Franco Zeffirelli or Fellini, full of tortured characters depicted by Ingrid Bergman, it is essentially very much a european novella. The translator maintains the Italian construct very well. But I don’t think the novella will stay with me for any significant time, as Francesca – by the very nature of her capricious personality – is like a butterfly in her emotional make-up, and I think it will not be long before her vacuous self flutters from my memory. And for me a good book is one that lingers.

In terms of locale – it is intimated that this takes place in Italy, and indeed the prose feels at some level quite Italian – but there is nothing really tangible to anchor the novella in that country or tap into the TripFiction ethos of “seeing a location through the eyes of an author”.

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