Thursday, July 30, 2015

Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo: Where There's Love, There's Hate

When so many blogs – Jacquiwine’s Journal, 1streading’s Blog, Pechorin’s Journal, The Mookse and the Gripes - opined favorably on Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo’s 1946 novel, Where There’s Love, There’s Hate (Los Que Aman, Odian), I felt obliged to investigate the work myself. Several elements aroused my interest: a tragedy set atmospherically in an isolated hotel on Argentina’s coast; a series of untoward events leading to a corpse; a search for the killer, who might be anyone; a cascade of literary references that implied more promising fare than the mysteries one spurns in airport boutiques; and a most extraordinary narrator. Plus, as the authors hailed from within a Buenos Aires circle of glitterati whose ringleader was one Jorge Luis Borges, it’s likely they had more going on upstairs than those Grishams, Pattersons, and Scottolines whose flashy covers litter bookshop windows and fill the idle hands and fatuous minds of readers on public transport, broadcasting the decadence of our time.

I had better things to do. I’d been profoundly immersed in the Italian masters: Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto in all his solemn chivalry. The great Tasso, as yet unread, stared accusatorily from the nightstand. Taking but an hour to read an 125-page Agatha Christie-style pot-boiler would wrench me away from such important work. But from time to time the mind needs repose from its strenuous efforts, and, I reasoned, an indulgence in light-hearted fare could reinvigorate my capacities for serious study.

I brewed a pot of black coffee from the Ethiopian highlands, set a few Walkers ginger-stem biscuits on a plate of Deruta porcelain passed down through family generations, and, after dabbing a few drops of tea tree oil on my temples to stimulate my mental faculties, settled into the divan. Wrapping about me the shawl knitted by dear Aunt Louisa, I adjusted the lamp ever just so, such that its light would fall squarely on the reading matter at hand. No matter how slight a work might turn out to be, I will not leave myself vulnerable to critics suggesting that any lack of enthusiasm on my part might be ascribed to poor lighting.

Opening the book with the gentle reverence I extend to great volumes, I immediately saw that my ornately-carved ivory blade would be unnecessary. Yet another flimsy modern paperback with pre-cut pages. Heaving a sigh for civilization and adjusting my lorgnette, I thought of my literary endeavours, murmured “Farewell, Tasso!” and plunged into the realms of tawdry mystery.

But right away, a literary reference - to Petronius! Most propitious. The narrator, a doctor named Hubert Humbert or some such thing (probably a premonition of that salacious book by Nabokov) seemed, like myself, to be of a literary cast. He had come to the hotel on the sands – “a literati’s paradise,” as he calls it - on holiday in order to engage in translating the Satyricon. I have seen that movie, a typical modern abomination, though in frankness I cannot yet boast of having read the book. Still, though I maintained a vigilant and healthy skepticism regarding this Huberer’s literary bona fides, I prided myself on “getting” his references, both of them.

Knowing that I was in for a mystery (thoughtless, those bloggers, to spoil that for me), I impatiently skimmed the pages, awaiting the critical “whodunit” part worth reading. This consumed no small amount of time and required a second cup of coffee, though again I patted myself on the back for recognizing references that accrued with each passing page - Oblomov! L’Atlantide! - even if looking them up would have required an effort incommodious to the ideal reading environment I’d worked to create. I admired too the novel’s exceptional setting: the hotel’s ground floor already invaded by sand; the windows closed upon the wind-whipped grains, resulting in a plethora of flies; a great storm keeping everyone inside like in Jamaica Inn (the movie, not the novel, which I have not read). “We are being buried in sand here. Anywhere you turn, there is sand; it’s infinite,” complains Humert, as I would have myself in his gumshoes. Sand everywhere, a veritable book of sand.

Finally, though: habeas corpus! The authors produced the body. It belonged to Mary, with her sister Emelia a guest of the hotel, both girls apparently involved romantically with Emelia’s fiancé, a Mr. Atuel or Atwell (the spelling obviously one of those maddeningly impenetrable South American peculiarities such as whether to call - to pick one of these gaucho names at random - Mr. Gabriel García Márquez “García Márquez,” or “Márquez,” or “Señor”). Mary had killed herself or been poisoned. Instantaneously I deduced, from reviews identifying this as a murder mystery, that this was murder. The rather disagreeable Hulert Hulot, inserting himself into every scene, claimed strychnine poisoning. I questioned his judgment, as I would that of anyone who practices a specialty while simultaneously attempting to translate the classics, a division of mental aptitudes that could only diminish one’s credibility in both domains.

But as the investigation increasingly captured my interest, so too did the doctor’s finer attributes. He adamantly assures the reader – almost as though he were speaking of my own virtues - of his generous ability to register “with equanimity” his defeats and his victories, culminating in an irrefutably bold declaration: “May nobody call me an unreliable narrator.” My doubts evaporated. I now recognized that all along Huberman (That is the name! I have written it down) had been the first to offer reasoned hypotheses about the crime. If these proved largely incorrect or baffling to the less perspicacious, that could hardly be blamed on a man of such solid literary discernment. One need only look at the other doctors in the hotel, one a physician in name only and the other a louche dipsomaniac, to see my point. Further, none of the other personages appeared to have the slightest ability to understand literature, the police commissioner notwithstanding in his expressing admiration for a no doubt frivolous Victor Hugo book about a man who laughs (I know neither the movie nor the book, but it strains credulity to imagine that either could be good). When this Atuel/Atwell and a Mr. Manning spend a night reading every book in Mary’s library in order to find clues – she was, after all, a translator of detective novels – they demonstrate a narrowness of purpose that a true lover of literature could not abide. What, I wonder, did they retain of those volumes? Could they even distinguish between Michael Innes and Eden Phillpotts, or between Phillpotts and Harrington Hext? Any uncultured savage can “read” a book if it’s but a matter of searching for a particular passage.

One little sprite of a character I did very much like, the hotel owners’ son Miguel, whose fondness for animals I myself share. In one scene, a bloody albatross appears in the dead woman’s room. I shuddered with horror at the waste of such a magnificent bird and shed a tear for the ancient mariner’s ancient regret, but breathed with relief when I saw later that Miguel had stuffed the great fowl in order to display it as any hunter worth his salt would do. This was followed by a momentary resurgence of distaste, like mounting acid reflux (the third cup of coffee, perhaps), for mon semblable littéraire, mon frère Huberman, who, when, following the dictates of his deductive powers, ripped apart the chest of the glorious oiseau empaillé assured that Mary’s jewels, missing since the night of her murder, had been sewn inside. They had not been. A pity, but nothing a skilled taxidermist could not fix.

Any fickleness in my fidelity to Huberman, however, could not last long. He was so like me, driven by insatiable curiosity, yet gracious even when pursuit of the truth got the better of him. Witness his restraint in this passage, which might have been written by myself: “Whenever I come across someone reading, my first impulse is to snatch the book from his hands. I offer, for the curious, an exploration of this impulse: could it be an attraction to books, or impatience at finding myself displaced from the center of attention? I resigned myself to asking him what he was reading.” And when the good doctor risks going outside in the storm and falls into a bog of crabs, I could not help but feel, as I allowed myself another cup of coffee, as though my own skin were crawling. Such atmosphere! The black winds howling, the tormented waves scouring the whispering sands, legions of horrid crustaceans swarming my hero as he tumbled into the esparto grass. A risk-taker! I admired his inner compulsion to involve himself in the civic duty of helping to solve a grievous crime, much as I felt compelled to explore this novel on my own rather than chance a wrong-headed opinion that could see in such courage only an element of spoof. One must make sacrifices. As Huberman himself muses,

Why had I, having adopted as a fundamental rule of conduct never to expose myself to danger, never having signed any protest against any government, having favored the appearance of order over order itself, if in order to impose it violence would be required, having allowed people to step all over my ideals, in order not to defend them; why had I, having aspired only to be a private citizen and, in the lap of luxury of my private life, find the “hidden path” and refuge against dangers both external and within, why had I - I again exclaimed - involved myself in this preposterous story and followed Atwell’s senseless orders? To bribe fate, I swore that if I got back alive to the hotel I would benefit from the lesson and never again allow vanity, sycophancy or pride to induce me to act without premeditation.

Why indeed! I might have said the same thing about embarking on this slight work, so beyond the limits of refined taste. But the exercise soon reached its terminus. I finished the tiny book and chuckled mightily in case anyone might be watching. That such a thing could have been written by people whose lives suggested they knew something of literature… Perhaps I had missed something. Perhaps this bit of fluff disguised a clever roman à clef concerning the authors’ circle in Buenos Aires; is it not too much to suppose that even this Borges himself is represented? My bet is on Miguel, the little scamp, enjoying his capricious escapades and his little boat, the Joseph K (a perplexing name for a watercraft). If only the authors had provided more clues such that one might, with minimal effort, match the characters to the persons they were intended to represent. Perhaps too if they had aimed high and omitted this nonsense about a murder so that decent people, like myself and Huberman, could go about our business undisturbed. I can only echo the great man’s vain cry: “When will we at last renounce the detective novel, the fantasy novel and the entire prolific, varied and ambitious literary genre that is fed by unreality?” Imagine, I wondered while following a seventh cup of coffee with a heavy dose of bicarbonate of soda. The authors might have written literature.

 © Álvaro Sánchez-Montañés from his portfolio Indoor Desert

I inhaled Where There’s Love, There’s Hate for Spanish Literature Month, kindly hosted by Richard of Caravana de Recuerdos and Stu of Winstonsdad’s Blog. Please have a look at reviews by: Jacqui, Max, Grant, Trevor.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Javier Marías’ A Heart So White: “How many things are left unsaid in the course of a lifetime or a story..."

Artemisa, Rembrandt van Rijn, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (image:

A human heart appears in the first line of Javier Marías’ novel A Heart So White (Corazón tan blanco, 1992), but we’re given no time to discern its color, as in the second line it’s blown apart by a bullet. In this novel that plays about with the mystery genre, Marías has immediately delivered a gunshot victim and her killer - one and the same - leaving only motive as the mystery at the heart of the book.

The abrupt, violent suicide in the first lines recedes quickly into the background, remaining a latent presence as the narrative develops. After all, it’s a trauma that occurred well before the birth of the novel’s narrator, the thirty-five year old Juan, who recounts it retrospectively only after the event, unknown to him his whole life, has come to light. Teresa Aguilera, the victim, had killed herself during a dinner party at home just days after having returned from her honeymoon with Juan’s father Ranz, who would later go on to marry Teresa’s own sister, Juan’s mother. Much is packed into the opening of A Heart So White, not only a glimpse of the complexities and secrets in Juan’s family but also an implication critical to the themes of the novel, present in the first line and affirmed again in the chapter’s last line, that Juan may have preferred never to know this family secret, this awful truth.

From the violent event that anchors the first chapter, the narrative turns in the second to a relatively innocuous, almost comic incident, yet given a consideration almost as weighty as that given to Teresa’s suicide. On his own honeymoon in a hotel in Havana with his wife Luisa, who is suffering from travel illness, Juan gazes from the room’s balcony at a woman standing on a corner below, obviously waiting impatiently for someone. When the woman notices Juan, she begins gesturing and shouting, demanding to know why he’s in the hotel, hurling epithets, threatening to kill him. An explanation presents itself moments later: Juan has been mistaken for another, who has appeared on the balcony next door, visible to the woman though not to Juan. But a seed of curiosity has been planted, and when the woman joins the unseen man in the room, Juan strains to listen through the wall to their conversation, overhearing an ultimatum the woman gives to the man: dispose of the wife who stands between them, either by divorce or by murder.

Many writers might take this as the initiation of a plot involving the overheard threat. Marías uses it instead to seed the narrative with another latent background element, and turns his attention to the resonances of Juan’s concealment of the incident, to the slight delay his attention to it causes in his response to Luisa’s waking: “I still find that delay inexplicable and even then I sincerely regretted it, not because it might have any consequences, but because of what, in an excess of scruple and zeal, I thought it might mean.” In Marías’ world of quotidian moral decisions and the formidable sway of language and silence, Juan’s hesitation and failure to share with Luisa what he’s overheard, a conversation that she too, we learn later, has heard herself, amount to an intrusion into the trust established between them, a disturbance of the “soft white pillow” on which the newlyweds rest their heads and share their lives. Like a drop of tincture, the incident falls into the couple’s lives and colors them (not unlike the drop of blood on the stairs in the first volume of Marías’ Your Face Tomorrow around which that volume is built; someone could likely write an entire dissertation on the spots, stains, scars and spreading points of color or flame or contagion in Marías’ works).

A Heart So White takes its title, as do many of Marías’ books, from Shakespeare, in this instance Lady Macbeth’s declaration to her husband, “I shame to wear a heart so white” after having likened her blood-stained hands to Macbeth’s color, “as if she wanted to infect him with her own nonchalance in exchange for infecting herself with the blood shed by Duncan.” Marías explores this notion of moral contagion through his repeated milking of words and incidents – from little white lies to murder - to pursue their resonances and reverberations. Around a constellation of situations, Marías explores how the spoken and unspoken exert force upon his characters’ lives; the nature of secrets and withheld information (“What is serious enough to constitute a secret and what is not, if it is not told?”); whether one should protect loved ones from undisclosed information (as Ranz advises Juan regarding his marriage to Luisa, “If you ever do have any secrets or if you already have, don’t tell her”) or whether it’s better to reveal all (as Luisa later advises Juan, “Everything can be told. It’s just a matter of starting”); the ways that language has a hold on the future should one elect to give it attention or not: the ability to hear what one wants to hear; to keep things unsaid or to voice them; to act or remain passive; how the very act of telling is a distortion; how language seems to carry an inherent quality of betrayal.

With a comic literalness, Marías unspools this last motif by placing Juan, Luisa and other minor characters in professions at the borders of language and truth: interpretation and translation. In fact, Juan and Luisa’s relationship is born from a blatant act of linguistic “treason”: when Juan finds himself assigned to translate between a British and Spanish diplomat with Luisa assigned as the “net” – an added assurance of accuracy in diplomatic interpretation – he flirts with and tests her by deliberately mistranslating the diplomats’ words, leading them away from affairs of state into opining on aspects of love (a lengthy disquisition on translation and interpretation, occupying an early section of the novel, must have made for an amusing task for Marías’ own translator, Margaret Jull Costa).

Marías’ rich exploration of language, silence, revelation, concealment, lies, and secrets is given added complexity, looking before and after, by his placing them in context of time and its mitigating or amplifying effects.  References to time permeate the novel; the same paragraph can contain a plethora of time-related words, multiple verb tenses and compression of pro- and retrospection that take the reader, as Jonathan Coe notes in the introduction to my edition, on “a strange, violent temporal journey.”

Marías’ sentences often indeed feel like a journey, piling up into extended meditations that can stretch for pages between one character saying something and another answering, or long, improbable soliloquies. These digressive philosophical ruminations emerge not only from Marías’ narrator but from other characters, even minor ones, such that his characters can come off as nearly interchangeable mouthpieces for some common font of ideas and reflections. Trying to imagine actual people engaging in the conversations that carry some of these ideas reveals a blatantly unnatural quality to the thoughts Marías slips into his character’s mouths or alongside their speech (though not terribly unlike the manner by which ideas are conveyed in a Shakespeare play). This stylistic device is something akin to meta-fiction, a means for Marías to drop the pretense of the realist novel that characters imply persons one might find in the real world, and to embrace the enterprise of fiction. But far from being mere disembodied voices, polyphonically enlisted in contributing to a philosophical treatise, Marías’ characters have flesh – often memorably so, as in his vivid description of the woman downstairs at the Havana hotel, of a body in a video in which the face remains outside the camera’s frame, and especially of mouths: of the painter Custardoy the Younger’s “long teeth,” of Juan’s father Ranz’s face with its mouth “as if it had been added at the last minute and belonged to someone else,” of “the moist mouth that is always full and full of abundance” that belongs to Ranz’s friend Villalobos. Marías constantly reminds readers of physicality, to the point of emphasizing, even in the first line, the terrible vulnerability of the body.

Whatever thematic seriousness or ponderous quality might appear in these long passages that weave themselves into the characters’ thoughts and speech are balanced by Marais’ fondness for humorously toying with the absurdities of the modern world. In one scene, he backgrounds a heavy discussion between Juan and Luisa with, on the television in the same room, the nutty antics in a Jerry Lewis film. In another, as Juan and Luisa dine with Villalobos, the last comically keeps spilling food on himself (more spots, more stains). Some of the most humorous parts of the novel come in a section that takes place when Juan gors to New York to interpret at the U.N. He stays with his friend Berta, who, involved in a video-dating service, screens a number of men whose alpha-male pseudonym choices make for a hilarious list (and also make one wonder how A Heart So White might have differed if written in today’s world of the Internet instead of in 1992). And while Marías chases down serious themes about concealment and honesty, his digressions at time bordering on philosophical essays, his frequent asides take deadpan aim at day-to-day topics: television and video; the absurd brevity of weekends (“You’re so exhausted that all you can do is gather strength for the next week”); the pomposity of diplomats and politicians; the odor problem of open kitchens; America (“a country where they cosset and mould their bodies, but only their bodies”); the boredom of being a museum guard. A scene in which Ranz talks a guard at the Prado out of setting fire to Rembrandt’s “Artemisa” because of the painting’s static refusal to divulge its secrets is one of the novel's comic highlights.

One can hardly ask much more from contemporary fiction than that it bring readers back to the primacy of language and its power, to the care one must take with words and their repercussions, to the “dangerous” act of listening. Such attention to the potency of words and silence could almost lead to obsessing in a brainsickly way over one’s most innocent utterances. In the end, Marías reveals – in providing the missing motive of the first line – the dramatic consequences that can result from mishandling a secret (which I’ll conceal here so as not to spoil it for those who haven’t read the novel), and the potential of information buried in the past to spread its contagion and emerge in the future, staining even those unborn at the time of its burial.

But Juan muses at one point, “It’s strange that words don’t have worse consequences than they do.” In the end, A Heart So White turns not so much on the matter of zealously guarding one’s words as on carefully nurturing one’s love, of nudging along one’s trust and care more attentively. After all, A Heart So White is also a novel about marriage, that relationship presumably built on mutual trust. “Marriage is a narrative institution,” says Marías’ narrator, pointing out the conundrum of narrative and relation, of the gulf of care between the unspoken and spoken:  “being with someone consists in large measure in thinking out loud, that is, in thinking everything twice rather than once, once with your thoughts and then when you speak.” The novel too, of course, is a narrative institution; rarely does one come along capable of provoking so many second thoughts about the way we communicate.

I read A Heart So White for Spanish Literature Month, hosted by Richard and Stu. Other reviews of the novel include those by Jacqui, Bellezza, Richard, Tony, and Frances.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Ennio Flaiano: The Short Cut

“I knew that one has to take short cuts as they are, not argue with them.” – Ennio Flaiano, The Short Cut

Of the many surprises that Italian literature has offered during my explorations, Ennio Flaiano’s The Short Cut (Tempo di uccidere, 1947) is among the most unexpected, addressing an unusual area of Italian experience: Mussolini's military incursion into Abyssinia in 1935-36. Winner of the inaugural Strega Prize, Italy’s highest literary award, The Short Cut stands out not only as an accomplished mid-20th century Italian novel, but also as one of the finest novels about imperialism I’ve read from any country.

Essentially The Short Cut recounts a transgression during the “fog of war” and the attempts of the narrator, an unnamed lieutenant in the Italian army, to wrestle with what he has done. AWOL from his battalion in a valley where the East African jungle gives rise to stark tableland, the lieutenant, seeking a break as well as treatment for a toothache, takes a short cut to the nearest sizable town. Losing his way, he encounters a young tribal girl bathing in a pool and watches her until she becomes aware of him and quietly exits the pool:

The operation was very simple; first she had to slip on a tunic and then wrap herself in a wide cotton toga. She still dressed like Roman ladies who had reached here or the borders of the Sudan, following the lion hunters and the proconsuls. “A pity,” I said, “to live in such different ages.” She perhaps knew all the secrets which I had rejected without even examining them, like a paltry legacy, in order to content myself with boring trite truths. I looked for knowledge in books and she had it in her eyes, which looked at me from 2,000 years ago like the light of certain stars which take that time to be picked out by us. It was this thought, I think, that made me stay. And then I could not distrust an image. 

Lost, exhausted, in pain and aware of the powerlessness of the native population before the “signori” who’ve invaded their land, he forces himself on the girl in a drawn out scene in which he validates his actions by what he interprets as the girl’s own desire. The two remain together until a few nights later, shooting at a wild animal, the lieutenant finds that a shot has ricocheted and wounded the girl. To ease her suffering as well as to escape culpability - in essence burning a village in order to save it - he kills her and hides the body.

It may seem that I’ve already given away most of the plot, but all of the above occurs in the first chapter. Flaiano’s interest lies in the lieutenant’s Raskolnikov-like rationalizations in the wake of his crime. Since this is a novel of imperial exploits, the lieutenant’s struggle also involves his ability – or inability – to comprehend the people whose land he occupies. A dance ensues between himself, his fellow Italians, and the native population, including an elderly man and young boy connected to the woman the lieutenant has killed. As he becomes increasing paranoid and more inclined to further his escape through additional crimes, the novel becomes a nearly picaresque set of adventures of a man lost within his reverberating thoughts, attempting to make his way back to Italy and to a wife rapidly becoming little more than a picture in a frame. Flaiano enhances the lieutenant’s moral miasma by leaving him suspended in time (his watch breaks), in place (his perambulations go in circles), and even in language, his connection with others underscored by the few words he and the natives can share and by the letters from his wife that gradually lose their legibility from being carried through the harsh African landscape.

Africa, for the lieutenant, is a place of contradiction. At best it represents openness, adventure, power, freedom from the confines of life back home:

Here…there was the advantage of feeling oneself in virgin country – an idea which does have a certain fascination for men who in their own country have to use the tram four times a day. Here you are a man, you find out what it means to be a man, an heir of the dinosaur’s conqueror. You think, you move, you kill, you eat the animal you surprised alive an hour before, you make a brief gesture and you are obeyed. You pass by unarmed, and nature itself fears you. Everything is clear and you have no spectator other than yourself. Your vanity emerges flattered.

Yet Africa is also “the sink of inequities…one goes there to stir up one’s conscience.” Alternately enraptured by the land and oppressed by its dangers – the enemy, crocodiles and other wild animals, heat, jungle, desert, disease – the lieutenant comes to know it as “the Infectious Empire.” Occasionally his perceptions of colonialism’s problems are more direct and cynical. Coming across an old man burying the dead in the remains of a destroyed village, he observes:

The Zouaves…had come on horseback to do this quick job; they were passing that way and it didn’t take long to burn two or three straw huts. And on the other hand the Zouaves remembered what the Asaris had done in Libya, they too paid by the same master, because this is one of the elementary secrets of a good imperial policy.

The Short Cut proved an excellent follow-up to Alberto Moravia’s Contempt. It employs a similar unreliable distance between the narrator’s view of himself and the reality he inhabits, and an overarching structure of a man questing to return to the wife from whom he is estranged. Like Contempt’s Riccardo Molteni, the lieutenant scours his conscience for a way out while grasping for any moral wiggle room and attempting to justify himself in terms of an almost institutional love for his wife: “…all that I have done, did I do it for her or did I do it for myself. That is all I want to know.” With regard to the other woman whose life he has taken through accident and intention, he revisits his actions, each time creating more morally abject nuances that might disentangle him from his mess:

I had stooped to this woman more in error, I felt, than sin. She did not give to existence the value I gave it; for her everything would have come down to obeying me, always, without asking anything. Something more than a tree and something less than a woman. But these were foolish fantasies which I hazarded to pass the time; other hands were stretched out to me from the radiant distance, other smiles invited me to return; and I would be wise to forget that night.

Through the lieutenant - hardly the worst of the Italian characters in the novel - the entire enterprise of Italy’s empire-building ambitions in East Africa is laid bare as sham, as a callous and doomed attempt to impose an uncomprehending system on a people the Italians can’t and won’t understand, even when the attempt rebounds in deadly ways. Like the lieutenant’s failed effort to find an expedient return to civilization, his interactions with natives, marked by fractured communications at the edge of language, serve to increase distance rather than shorten it.

I found the The Short Cut to be a superb novel, reminiscent of the best of Graham Greene and, in its thriller-like portrayal of a man on the run, of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male. Had it been the only thing Flaiano wrote, it would have assured his fame. But Ennio Flaiano’s reputation has already been guaranteed. Though his name may not be immediately familiar, one surely knows the titles of the films he wrote for directors such as Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and especially Federico Fellini: Rome: Open City, La Notte, I Vitteloni, La Strada, Juliet of the Spirits, Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, and 8 & ½, among others. That Flaiano’s only novel is such an impressive work hardly comes as a surprise.

Perhaps the cover artist thought it was Green Mansions?...