PositiveBook PostA friend said to me the other day that it is interesting that short stories date in a way that novels do not; of course, that can’t be said of all stories. I am thinking of Chekhov. But that may be because the small world of the story is so tightly constructed, and focused on a few telling details. There’s a dated quality to the hopeless internecine personnel battles in what Hazzard calls \'the Organization,\' while her exquisitely constructed stories of heartbreak are sturdier vessels ... a dark pleasure of these mordant pages is Hazzard’s gift for aphorism.
PanBook PostThe Lying Life of Adults, Ferrante’s new novel (the title is a clunker in both English and Italian), falls short of her earlier work ... For me—and I imagine for a few other readers as well—Giovanna’s account of these events reads like a version of my own hyperbolic, fib-filled teenage journal, messy with angry tears. (A friend of mine summed up this genre in a text as \'Dear Me. I hate Mom. She’s a bitch.\') Ferrante’s gritty tableau includes a Prince Charming who quotes scripture and a bejeweled magic bracelet, given to Giovanna when she was born, by Vittoria—read, bad fairy—that shows up on the arm of her father’s pretty inamorata. Scenes from this sloppy book might be outtakes from the HBO version of My Brilliant Friend. I miss the sly, sharp, elusive Ferrante I fell for, years before fame overtook her. In [a] Paris Review interview, Ferrante said that she writes in order to be read. Mission accomplished. But at what cost?
Iris Origo, Trans. by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
RaveThe New YorkerIt’s almost impossible to imagine a better time to read A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary , 1939–1940, by Iris Origo, which is being published this week by New York Review Books. And, if there ever is a better time, it won’t be one we want to live in. Trenchant, intelligent, and written with a cool head, the book records the months before Italy’s descent into the Second World War, when Mussolini’s relationship with Hitler was being presented to the Italian public via a campaign of misinformation, what we would now call fake news ... I read this little book with an escalating sense of anxiety. We know what will happen in Italy, and what the war will bring, but Origo, of course, does not. By the end of these pages, my heart was in my mouth. To read it is to witness the slide of a country into tyranny and chaos. It does not feel unfamiliar.
Magda Szabo, Trans. by Len Rix
RaveThe New YorkerAs in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, Szabó is writing about a writer who despite domestic and other difficulties—some of which are historical predicaments that affect domestic life—is trying to write, and like those books, The Door revolves around the relationship of two women, one of whom is telling the story and may or may not be a reliable narrator ... To read it is to feel turned inside out—as if our own foibles have been written in soap on the mirror, to be read when we wake up from the trance of our own self-importance ... The Door is a bone-shaking book. At moments of crisis—-one involves an actual bolt of lightning, another, the consumption of a stupefying meal—the reader experiences a sensory ricochet.