A beautifully written novel, translated from the Italian, with a heartwarming story against a backcloth of misery ... By building long anecdote upon anecdote we finally arrive at the end of the book with everything you need to know about this neighborhood, its varied inhabitants, its sordidness and its multi-colored scenes of life. On the way, the language soars like a symphony. The notes are in perfect pitch.
What Hell Is Not is an examination of the admixture of heaven and hell, of love and hate. Rich in figurative language, which is sometimes heavy-handed, the story is, nevertheless, equally rich in characterization and setting.
Any potential for a profound narrative in this promising setup is thwarted by the writing, which is bloated and indulgent. The book’s dreamy musings and vague scenes are laden with metaphors so mixed it can require several reads just to take in their true awfulness ... It is difficult to know whom to blame, author or translator, for the manic descriptions, desperate reflections and mangled aphorisms ... The novel’s images are contorted, its metaphors removed from the physical world ... Every dead thing is compared to fish, every dark or mysterious thing to Arabs ... Translation is a tricky business, but did this grotesque analogy sound O.K. in Italian? ... D’Avenia’s authorial style may be 'more is more,' but even when no words are needed, he still offers a dozen ... D’Avenia’s relationship to simile is misguided and cynical: used to obfuscate, not clarify ... Somewhere between the writing, editing and translation the audience has been dismissed, and all beauty murdered.