A modest apartment in Via Gemito smelling of paint and turpentine. Its furniture pushed up against the wall to create a make-shift studio. Drying canvases moved from bed to floor each night. Federí, the father, a railway clerk, is convinced that he possesses great artistic promise. If it weren't for the family he must feed and the jealousy of his fellow Neapolitan artists, nothing would stop him from becoming a world-famous painter. Ambitious and frustrated, genuinely talented but also arrogant and resentful, Federí is scarred by constant disappointment. He is a larger-than-life character, a liar, a fabulist, and his fantasies shape the lives of those around him, especially his young son, Mimi, short for Domenico, who will spend a lifetime trying to get out from under his father's shadow.
Searching and sorrowful ... This isn’t a recriminatory book ... The House on Via Gemito...has been well served by the translator Oonagh Stransky, whose rendering is as vivid as it is lucid, managing to place elegantly descriptive passages side by side on the page with elaborately pungent Neapolitan insults, reproducing many of the latter in dialect, allowing the long compound words to convey their hostility and contempt on their own.
It is 450 pages of vivid, fluid, richly detailed drama, tormented and hilarious. Originally published in 2000, two years after his father’s death and more than a decade before the other translated novels, it shows us the crucible in which the author’s later style was formed: Coolness and control are defense mechanisms learned in the long struggle with his father ... The novel gains with length. As drama and detail accumulate, we share the boy’s difficulty in finding a steady position vis-à-vis his father ... Starnone’s prose, ably and fluently translated by Oonagh Stransky, is compelling without being showy. He nails down his father in what could seem a tremendous act of revenge but is also a moving celebration of the man’s achievement and a profound consideration of artistic vocation.
His warring desires to destroy his father and banish his father's violence from his own psyche are, by far, the most interesting parts of the book ... Sadly, Starnone gives young Mimí much less time on the page than he does Federí ... He has to retell his father's lies in detail, investigating each one, in order to take their power away; he has to do the same with his memories of Federí abusing him and his long-suffering mother Rusinè. Psychologically, the process makes absolute sense, and is moving to behold. But in a more streamlined novel, Mimí's liberation might move the reader more.