- Book: The Eight Mountains
- Location: Italian Alps
- Author: Paolo Cognetti
The majestic mountains of the Italian Alps, around the Monte Rosa massif, form the constant backdrop to this quietly unassuming novel that has already garnered plenty of praise and won several prizes (The English Pen Award, Italy’s Premio Strega and the French Prix Médicis étranger).
On one level it is an amble through the lives of Bruno and Pietro who spend time in the mountains together, whose lives over the course of several decades diverge and come back together. Bruno is wedded to the stony heights, his life is forged in the gritty reality of alpine living; Pietro is a Summer visitor, who arrives from Milan with his mother to spend the weeks of clement weather exploring the pastures and bucolic nature of the meadows and peaks.
The mountains have their own rhythm and within moments the biddable and at times challenging terrain can rumble into a volte face and rain destruction on flesh and blood human beings. And it is this ever present danger of the mountains, masked by beauty, greenery and tranquility that the author captures so heartrendingly well. One false step and an avalanche can whisk away a life without a moment’s hesitation.
Bruno and Pietro (or Berio as Bruno prefers to call him) are friends spanning a period of 30 years over the last years at the end of the 20th Century to early 21st Century. Pietro comes and goes, forging a film making career that takes him to Nepal, where he learns about the concept of the eight mountains of the eponymous title. Bruno is the constant, just like the peaks that range over the human lives; the two young men’s lives are unequivocally enmeshed in the mountain landscape. Pietro intellectually and spiritually connects but his frail body often revolts with altitude sickness, Bruno has the constitution and determination to withstand the rigours of mountain life.
In his earlier years, when Bruno was a waif, Pietro’s parents scooped him up into the bosom of the family and a real bond formed between them all leaving Pietro ambivalent – loving the proximity of his close friend, yet jealous of the bond forming between his father and his friend, underpinned by their love of the peaks. Later in life it is perhaps only a little alpeggio that Pietro can create, to honour the memory of his father, but with the help of Bruno.
As Pietro comes and goes over the years he understands that “Everything has changed, yet everything is the same” – yet it is not the same for the people. Family bonds shift, the ageing process takes over, love comes and goes… and this transient nature of the human condition, set against the solid massif that forms the tantalising paradox that drives this novel.
And a glowing acknowledgement of the translation team of Erica Segre and Simon Carnell.