Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Life Without "the Principal Thing" is Not Worth Living

... or so believes the Grandmother who is the major character, if not the narrator, of this debut novella by Milena Agus, From the Land of the Moon. Without love, the grandmother opines (before she becomes a mother or a grandmother), life is not worth living, for love is the principal thing -- a perspective the rest of her pragmatic family simply can't grasp. But then the grandmother is an eccentric -- so intense that she drives potential suitors away. Indeed, it isn't until she travels to the mainland from Sardinia after she eventually marries, and meets the Veteran at a spa/treatment center (for kidney stones), that she feels she has finally grasped "the principal thing". It's no surprise to her that her only child to be born alive enters the world nine months after her return home..

This is an intriguing novel, but not one that captivated me completely. The language, the ideas, the themes were all fascinating, but I never developed an emotional connection to either the characters or the narrative. Perhaps, then, I wasn't surprised by the final pages, which raise the massive and perennial literary question of whether the narrator and her primary source, the grandmother, are all that trustworthy... Still, it's an interesting novella and a vivid depiction of life in postwar Italy, both in remote Sardinia and the business capital of Milan. This was a 3.8 star book for me; mildly recommended.

Meanwhile, I've been reading the trilogy featuring the inimitable Gerry Samper, king of snark, by James Hamilton-Paterson, and will blog on all three books when I finish. I've finished two of the three, and they are goofy and fresh, utterly different from so much of what passes for "humor" in the publishing universe.