Winner of Italy's prestigious Strega Prize, this novel offers a meditation on misogyny and toxic masculinity, taking as its jumping off point the actual 1975 brutalization of two young Italian women, one of whom was murdered.
...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.