A thousand-plus pages, in the range of a million words: It resists our efforts to read it on the bus or in bed, to get lost in it, to finish it, as we were taught to do in school; even on an e-reader, it tries our twenty-first-century patience.
Very long nonfiction books are typically justified by their subject matter. Not so the very long novel: The very long novel is even more gratuitous in Italian than it is in English.
Jhumpa Lahiri, introducing a new book of Italian short stories, observes that Italian literature has developed around the story, rather than the novel, which retains the feel of an import. In the shadow of Dante and Boccaccio, Italian literature has no domineering elder of the very long novel: A very long Italian novel can seem an act of defiance; it is certainly an act of imposition.
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It became a best-seller in its native land, and was awarded the Strega Prize previously given to Bassani, Elsa Morante, Levi, Natalia Ginzburget al. The English translation, done with unflagging vigor by Antony Shugaar, presents readers with a very long novel that feels even girl than it is.
The effect is surely intended. Sex may be why Albinati, even as he gestures toward a generational saga, focusses tightly on adolescence. He opens with the story of his friend Arbus: A time, a place, an upbringing, a friendship, all shot through with violence: You school find yourself anticipating a work www does for Rome in the kinky porn sex what Ferrante has done for postwar Naples, and for male friendship what Knausgaard did for fathers and sons.