...Albinati’s book is not so easily pinned down. It’s certainly not another In Cold Blood ... Albinati offers no extended dramatization of the events themselves, or the consequent police investigation, or the judicial proceedings. We do not follow the life of the girl who survived, or that of the culprit who escaped. Indeed, one of the charms and irritations of this extraordinary and extraordinarily long novel (just a few thousand words shy of War and Peace) is how ingeniously it plays with our expectations ... Story after fascinating story culminates in moments of transcendence ... I can think of no author who has prompted in me such frequent shifts from admiration to irritation and back; who has aroused so much pleasure with his stories and reflections, and so much annoyance with his emphatic, exaggerated, paradoxical claims, not to mention the sheer length of this interminable book. Yet it’s hard to feel, as the pages roll by, that this is not absolutely willed on the author’s part. The book itself becomes the reader’s Catholic school, at times a kind of prison where the same concepts are repeated ad infinitum, at times a kind of violence; in any event, not so much a novel about a crime...as the memoir of a man who cannot help but see every human transaction in terms of criminality.
The book makes significant demands on the reader’s time, patience and, one might add, wrists (the hardback is heavier than a housebrick). It is worth persevering, though, as the writing has the power at times to mesmerize; in pages of sinuously allusive prose ... A restlessly inquisitive presence on the page, Albinati fathoms the twisted logic of his schoolboy contemporaries with the aid of theories culled rather haphazardly from Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, Melanie Klein and, especially, the Italian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia ... Along the way, the author indulges in a giddying range of cultural interests, from regional Italian accents to the films of Sam Peckinpah and the fabular fiction of Italo Calvino ... Ingenious use is made throughout of police reports, courtroom video testimonies and wiretaps relating to the 1976–7 Circeo trials ... Though hard going in parts, The Catholic School is an important work that opens a window onto a piece of notorious horror in mid-1970s Italy.
... a 1,200-page slab of lament, accusation, exorcism ... Albinati is a scholar of the harlequinade of masculinity, its rites and subtleties ... His book—a blend of novelistic imagination and true crime—is a taxonomy of male types, of bullies and victims; a close reading of locker room behavior; an analysis of the correct proportion of vulgarity necessary for humor between friends ... There are only a few scenes, lightly sketched; the modes here are the tirade and the aria—compulsively repetitive discursions with Albinati occasionally and apologetically catching himself ... There are occasional flashes of epigrammatic wit ... but Albinati is generally a humorless writer ... A peculiar, disconcerting feature of the book is how frequently it reproduces the conditions it purports to criticize. It too is a harshly male-only space ... Women generally appear here in slices—as membranes, fleshy protuberances, vessels for male insecurity and revulsion ... Albinati conjures the minds of the killers and descends into them; we are trapped in their amber, their humid, claustrophobic logic. You expect him to take an ax to all this, to let in reason, but he merges with the muck ... What is striking is how banal these statements feel, for all their horror ... It seems that for Albinati, the unearthing of these ideas is work enough, truth enough, however nauseatingly familiar they may be.
Albinati employs the framework of a novel, but much of this dense narrative reads like an academic treatise. As with Roberto Bolaño's massive 2666 account of the fate of women abducted along the Mexican border, the backdrop for the investigation fills with forays into criticism, literary experiment, and extended reflections on sexuality, power, religion, and violence ... detours and digressions take him or her into so many labyrinthine directions that the result may overwhelm or weary many under Albinati's control ... The advantage Albinati may offer his perplexed or diligent critics may lie in his ability to explain and elaborate why and how his take on the sordid and sensationalized events of his teens transformed into a massive, garrulous analysis of Italian culture.
The English translation, done with unflagging vigor by Antony Shugaar, presents readers with a very long novel that feels even longer than it is. The effect is surely intended. Of the novel’s many forays into ideas, the richest is its exploration of 'the gratuitous,' la gratuità. It’s a mode of experience in which power and the absence of purpose meet; and, in the reading, this gratuitously long novel about religion, manhood, sex, and violence becomes a test of its own unruly philosophy ... Albinati has fictionalized the crime his classmates committed and elaborated on it in the language of broad-brush cultural criticism. He calls it 'the kind of scandal that disfigures in an indelible fashion the space that it lays open to the glare of daylight,' and goes on to cycle through rhetorical effects in an effort to register its significance ... it becomes clear that The Catholic School is not a social novel about well-born Roman Catholics, and not a work of true crime. It is a very late entry in the long European tradition of the novel as a quasi-philosophical essay in disguise ... The novel’s unbounded intelligence, its cool take on sexual violence, and its disregard for conventions of character and plot are assertions of the author’s independence from Catholic and bourgeois expectations. So is its extreme length. At the same time, the length suggests how hard it can be for such a man to shed such an upbringing, even in supposedly secular contemporary Italy. He can’t just get rid of it once and for all; he has to assert his freedom from it again and again.
...resembles a true crime novel as told by Karl Ove Knausgaard ... An endnote from Albinati’s translator...suggests the specificity of his cultural references may deter non-Italians. Maybe, but fiction can thrive on detail and The Catholic School is full of gusty generalisation: its challenge might actually be its lack of specificity ... This isn’t a normal novel, and nor is the pact it makes with the reader; 900 pages in, Albinati tells 'anyone who has had enough' to skip nearly half of what’s left. Ignore that advice and the reward is moot. late passages involve, among other things, a dream Albinati has about taking revenge on dog owners who let their pets foul the pavement and some needy emails from an ex-classmate failing to muster numbers for a school reunion. Yet, weirdly, it’s in these drifting tides of consciousness, rather than the book’s quasi-anthropological grandstanding, that Albinati’s titanic enterprise ultimately feels most alive, even if what they tend to reveal – men think about sex; sometimes it’s ugly – isn’t exactly news.
The Catholic School, all 1,268 pages of it, is an effort to explore why boys from such a privileged and settled background would commit such a crime. It pays little attention to the crime itself; we learn hardly anything about the victims other than that they are from a lower class than the perpetrators. Instead, most of the book muses on the meaning of masculinity, on the family and the middle class, on rape, violence, the penis, sadism and masochism, not to speak of morals and manners among Italians of a certain income bracket ... Albinati’s book, made up of many short sections, is long and long-winded. It lacks what we might call the literary tone, showing no signs of irony, inwardness, self-consciousness, or ambiguity. Most of the time it is simply garrulous. Reading it is like being buttonholed by a man in a bar who wishes to speak at length about sex and men and rape. Some of the comments in the book are startlingly crass ... One small reason not to skip any part of this book may arise from a note at the end telling us that it was begun in 1975 and finished forty years later. These are years in which so much changed in the conversations about the relationship between men and women. What is fascinating about The Catholic School is that it enacts, in the most extreme way, the very sounds some men might have made before they were invited to become more mannerly, more intelligent, more alert, more sensitive, and less stupid. The book was finished in a time when men were often asked to shut up completely and let someone else talk. The Catholic School is, sometimes, a good example of what it was like before this had any real effect ... At other times, however, it is a good example of nothing at all, other than the author’s boorishness ... It would be too cruel to suggest that this book is necessary reading for anyone, but it may be useful for those who wish to see an example of how little progress we have made over the past forty years, or for those who wish to experience an interminable display of loquaciousness and idiocy masquerading as a novel.
The Catholic School is a 250-page book. Unfortunately, finding that book inside the 1,200+ pages here, much like extracting a sculpture from a block of marble, demands extensive excavation. And, unlike the marble, those pages are not contiguous, so there’ll be some assembly required ... Honestly, I’d be interested to know about the editing involved here. Did the manuscript start out at 2,500 pages, and this is a vast improvement? ... No matter what the cover says, this is not a novel. It reads like pieces of a memoir buried under 10 years’ worth of notes for a graduate seminar the author never actually taught, the title of which — I’m guessing — was, 'Rape: The Inevitable Consequence of the Existence of Women. (Oh, and the Middle Class Sucks.)' ... Perhaps we’re to believe that the Edoardo Albinati who is writing all this down is the alter ego of Edoardo Albinati the actual author, and so we should forgive the latter for the self-indulgent, misogynistic claptrap that this fictional former is spewing ... That this book won Italy’s highest honor for fiction, the Strega Prize, makes me wonder: Do they go by poundage? Did each judge figure the other guy had read it? How exactly does this qualify as fiction? Weren’t there other submissions? Is this some sort of an inside joke? ... It’s a wonder that the author was able to make it through these endless discussions of violent sexual acts without becoming a desiccated husk drained of all bodily fluids ... If, as James Joyce said, 'Life is too short to read a bad book,' then it’s for darn sure too short to spend any time with a self-indulgent author’s 1,200-page vanity project.
Though the book does have some interesting things to say on fascism and its endurance, these are buried amongst such a heavy word-load that such insights are practically impenetrable ... There is, principally, something deeply unsettling about the way that Albinati chooses to withhold the central incident of the book as though it is bait or an incentive to continue ... A more ethically-minded book would have put the rape (if it needed to be included at all) at the beginning, avoiding its use as a device to create this sort of narrative suspense ... one finds oneself reluctantly and disturbingly wishing he would get on with it ... leeches its narrative energy from their rape and murder ... There is, to my mind, a deep irony in a book that attempts, over nearly 1,300 pages, to explain masculinity to its reader. This is a profoundly masculine endeavour, and one which I imagine most readers will tire of quickly ... Even if Albinati would defend his character as representative of the toxic masculinity the book seeks to explore, surely we have heard enough from such voices. Any woman or LGBTQ+ person has endured such explanations and provocations on innumerable occasions. We do not need more novels that simulate the experience.
Prize-winning Albinati, a fellow alumnus, does not shy away from grisly sensationalism ... What initially seems to be context or digression—a hundred pages on bourgeois marriage; a hundred pages on rape—emerges as the book’s core, a knot of interlocking philosophical concerns that the author has spent a lifetime trying to untangle. Dense, sprawling, brilliant, like Rome itself.
This is not a tale of moralizing or understanding but more an illumination of the disparate aspects of Italian society that coalesced to produce this brutal form of toxic masculinity ... With its precise language and philosophical diatribes, Albinati's novel will draw comparisons to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood…though it's 900 pages longer.
Albinati’s musings on the philosophical meanings of rape, murder, education, and other matters are the substance of this book, which, if boiled down to actual deeds, would scarcely add up to a novella. A little goes a long way, and there’s a lot of it. Talky and pensive; for readers who like their fiction laden with more reflections than deeds.
Albinati examines radical politics, religious poetry, and Hellenic philosophy, his country’s long dalliance with fascism, and even Alfred Hitchcock in an exhaustive manner that winds up bordering on extreme navel-gazing ... this massive work winds up as less a new take on the nonfiction novel than an exercise in indulgence and solipsism.