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Daniele Del Giudice: Atlante occidentale (Lines of Light)

It is Lo stadio di Wimbledon [Wimbledon Stadium] that both starts and ends with a train (starting with a train breaking down and ending with a journey on the tube to Heathrow) but it is this book that has the picture of a locomotive on the front (at least in the Italian edition), while Lo stadio di Wimbledon [Wimbledon Stadium] has a picture of an old-fashioned plane. While plane flight is significant in both books, it is more significant in this one, as the two main characters are nearly killed in a midair collision. However the covers probably have no significance whatsoever.

Following the near-collision, the two main characters meet. Ira Epstein is an aging German novelist who has given up writing (shades of Bobi Bazlen in Lo stadio di Wimbledon [Wimbledon Stadium]) but is being talked about as a candidate for the Nobel Prize. He has given up writing because he no longer needs to write his stories but, rather, sees them. Pietro Brahe (whose name, of course, evokes Tycho Brahe) is a much younger Italian physicist, working on particle acceleration at CERN. What exactly he is doing is never explained and, indeed, that is part of the theme – namely that what happens in particle physics cannot be seen or explained. The novel is essentially about the interaction between the two men. They meet again several times. More particularly they talk. They talk especially about perception, how and why we see (or think we see) what we see. Though coming from two nominally very different worlds, they are able to realise that the worlds they are interested in, namely particle physics and fiction, can only be visualized in images but cannot be described in a conventional language. And, indeed, that is the message we are left with at the end.

Del Giudice’s attempts to examine how literature can and should be experienced and how language may well be failing are important contributions to modern literature. That he is able to put them in novel form and produce convincing and thoroughly readable novels is a credit to his skill. That this novel is out of print in English and that Lo stadio di Wimbledon [Wimbledon Stadium] has never been translated into English is a sad commentary on the state of the novel in the English language.

Publishing history

First published 1985 by Einaudi
First published in English in 1988 by Harcourt
Translated by Translated by Norman MacAfee and Luigi Fontanella