Over Christmas BBC4 showed a great documentary called Italian Noir.
As the title suggests, it was about a particular type of Mediterranean crime writing, and one of the most interesting novelists featured was Massimo Carlotto, one-time Communist revolutionary, fugitive from the law and also the victim of one of his home country’s most infamous miscarriages of justice.
This interview with the Observer from 2005 fills in more of the details on someone who has certainly ‘lived a life’.
Some of his books are available in translation, including his autobiography, The Fugitive, and the novel The Goodbye Kiss. The latter, originally published in 2003, is the story of Georgio Pellegrini, himself an ex-Red Brigade member who returns from exile in South America and strikes a deal with the Italian authorities, serving some prison time before his release, which is where the story begins in earnest.
Pellegrini is, quite frankly, a massive twat. A coward, rapist, murderer and traitor, he is the most hideous and unlikeable protagonist since Patrick Bateman. However, despite the fact that the breathlessly paced tale is told from the point of view of an abusive sociopath, it is nonetheless gripping.
Life is a naked Darwinian struggle to Pellegrini as he seeks to become seen as respectable – the irony being that legitimacy in his modern Italy is only attainable by increasing duplicity and violence. Pellegrini’s quick-wittedness, cunning and lack of any morals whatsoever are all that keep him alive amid a cast of equally despicable underworld predators.
As the body count rises to the point of slightly absurd, the message is clear: power is everything. The weak, especially vulnerable women, become victims, either of the openly criminal like Pellegrini or else the bent coppers, lawyers and politicians who, in that way that is familiar from many Italian films and books, are all part of the same ruthless machine, or ‘Il Sistema’.
The Goodbye Kiss is kind of depressing in its view of a pitiless world, but also exciting in its unashamed harshness and willingness to shock.
Well worth a butcher’s then, but definitely not for the faint-hearted.
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