Tuesday, 27 May 2008

About Andrea Camilleri and Inspector Montalbano

I’ve been busy lately and I had to skip my “Picture Book Monday” for the first time, even though I had the perfect book! But I’ll leave it for next week:)

Today the spotlight is on Andrea Camilleri and his most famous creation, inspector Salvo Montalbano. His most recent book in the series is called Il campo dei vasai, which was a good one, even though I didn’t think it was one of his best. It hasn’t been translated in English yet, anyway, so there isn’t much point in reviewing it here. What I want to do now is talk about the series in general and explain why I love it so much.

I’ve only discovered Montalbano two years ago, when I was living in Urbino studying for my MA and sharing a lovely country house with another Italian girl. She introduced me to the TV show which is based on the books and I was immediately hooked. Tuesday night became our special night. If anything bad happened on Tuesdays didn’t matter, because there was always Montalbano to watch in the evening!

One day I decided it was time to read the books.
It’s a strange phenomenon, in Italy, the popularity that Camilleri’s books have achieved. His books became popular only when he was almost 70. He had worked on tv and theatre but never managed to be successful as a writer, until, in 1992, Sellerio, one of the most revered Italian publishing houses, decided to give him a chance. His first Montalbano book, The shape of water was a major success and from then on he established himself as a bestseller author.

The peculiar thing about his books is that they’re written in a mix of Italian and Sicilian, his native dialect (or language, someone would argue). I would have thought this to be a problem for those readers not familiar with Sicilian words and expressions, but obviously it’s not. I feel privileged because I can speak and understand Sicilian, since my father is from Sicily and I’ve spent many years there. But how other people can fully understand it, is a mystery to me!
This said, the books are not only well-crafted mysteries, but, more importantly for me, they are a great way to go back to Sicily for a while and enjoy its language, its food, its sense of humour. Yes, what I love most probably about these books is that they’re incredibly funny. Sometime when I read them I can’t stop myself from bursting out laughing, sometimes really loudly! Or I just giggle throughout the whole book, making people around me really curious or really embarrassed.

I consider these books comfort reading. They don’t deal with comfortable issues, but I love meeting the same characters again, laughing at the same jokes - or at new ones. I know that the usual stunningly-beautiful-woman-looking-for-help will make her appearance, leaving Montalbano to struggle between his moral values and his lust. I know that Catarella will mess up names, that Montalbano will go for a swim no matter the weather, that Livia, his girlfriend, will be obnoxious and jealous, and that Fazio will collect his lists of names, dates of births and addresses when looking for informations…
The only thing that I’m not comfortable with is that Camilleri is subtly but unmistakeably sexist. The most obvious example is the way he portraits Livia. Nobody likes her, for good reason. Why does she have to be so annoying? Sometimes I’m amazed at how much she is impossible to bear. She is not the only annoying female character. Often women are mischievous (The Paper Moon, La vampa d’agosto, Il campo dei vasai etc…) or cruel, adulterous. Always, in some way, guilty.
But if you are not bothered by this, or if you manage to ignore it, Camilleri touches important issues such as immigration, exploitation of children and women by illegal organisations, mafia, political corruption. And Montalbano is always on the people’s side, often challenging the authorities he is supposed to represent in order to defend true justice and real values.
I particularly appreciated what Montalbano (and Camilleri, I take it) had to say about the riots in Genoa during the protests against the G8 in 2001. He wanted to resign, because he was ashamed by what his colleagues did at the Diaz school, breaking in during the night, beating up the protesters who were sleeping there and accusing them of having weapons. Later on it was proved that the weapons that were found were actually brought there by the police itself. It was a vicious and extremely violent attack on innocent people, that hasn’t been properly investigated yet. A lot of these protesters were transported to Bolzaneto prison and there physically and verbally abused. It was a shame committed by those who are supposed to protect us, and I was really happy when Montalbano took a stand against it.

So now you know why I love these books. I can’t imagine how much is lost in translation, but they are still worth reading. The tv series is also very well done. i like all the actors, and of course they are the faces I imagine for the characters when I read the books. Recently an Italian newspaper has released the DVDs, so now I own the whole collection :)


raidergirl3 said...

Well I've only read the English translations and I really enjoy them. And they made a TV show? How cool. unfortunately I dont' speak Italian, but I wish I did. I try to spread the news about his mysteries, and I've got my parents reading them now.

I love the food desriptions, and how cranky he is, but the people he likes he treats alright. Good call on the misogony.

Comfort food reads, but deal with real issues. Nice summary of the books. I've read three now, and plan to keep going, every now and them, enjoy a little Sicily.
You're not the only fan!

valentina said...

Yeah the tv show is brilliant, the sceneries are faboulous and they always shoot in these beautiful huge houses. I also love the actor who plays Montalbano and I might have a little crush on him:P
I'm happy you enjoyed them, it's so cool that now he is known outside Italy as well!