In this novel by the celebrated Italian writer, who died in 1991, a small Italian town struggles to emerge from under the thumb of fascism after World War II. Narrator Elsa explores provincial Italian life through the lens of two generations of neighbors and relatives, their gossip and shattered dreams, their heartbreaks and struggles to find happiness.
Ginzburg’s narrative proceeds by pen portrait and vignette, elucidating how its cast of characters are both connected and also, whether as a result of external forces or by personal inclination, or both, isolated ... over all hangs an atmosphere of nostalgia, not in its comforting or corny sense, but as a form of homesickness for the past, and for the vanishing possibilities of the self ... Ginzburg’s efforts to bring those buried stories to the surface are compelling, strange and wonderful to see in their English version.
Reading Ginzburg in translation is ironic as one of her talents is in exploring what can’t be directly expressed. She investigates the layers of meaning behind even simple communications between family, friends, and lovers. These are people whose lives intersect and push boundaries constantly, yet even with such intimacy—often stifling geographically—there is distance between them. There is no distance at all, however, with the reader. In Ginzburg’s careful hands, one quickly forgets there’s an authorial voice as her characters are engaging storytellers themselves. This intimate web of tales makes readers guests at these family events, overhearing secrets and watching their inconsistencies and peccadilloes that makes them as alive as the author states they are.
In Ginzburg’s oeuvre, suffering is less an event than an atmosphere. This emotional monotony adheres to the overriding logic of her fiction, in which everything is part of a pattern ... the same stories are told and retold, the same meals eaten ad nauseum, and, as in children’s cartoons, some figures only ever appear in a single set of clothes ... concerned less with narrative than with routines and their temporary disruptions ... even if Voices in the Evening emphasizes the futility of Tommasino’s wish for a fresh start somewhere new, it allows that his and Elsa’s relationship is fatally imperiled the moment it’s brought out of the shadows and into the formal structure of engagement, transformed from choice into obligation. The point is not exactly cheerful, suggesting the only way to escape the web of the childhood home is to become just as entangled elsewhere ... It is the peculiar effect of Ginzburg’s oblique style that [a] roving look more clearly expresses Elsa’s love and disappointed hopes than her explicit admission of both.