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Giorgio Manganelli: Dall’inferno [From Hell]
This is the first book by Manganelli that I have managed to finish reading. The trouble with experimental writers is that they can easily fall into one or more of three traps:
1. They are too abstruse (which might mean too erudite, but not necessarily so);
2. You have no idea what he is getting at (and, in many cases, don’t really care);
3. The book can start becoming silly.
The other books I started (but did not finish) generally fell into the first category; this book tends to the second two.
As Manganelli is Italian and is writing about hell, you immediately think of Dante. While he makes no explicit reference to Dante, the unnamed narrator in hell does have both a sort of guide and, indeed, a sort of Beatrice but there the similarity ends. The book starts with the narrator waking up in what he assumes is hell (though, apart from the general gloom, he has no real reason for thinking that he is in hell). He seems to know that he is dead and in hell but has no recollection of his death or how he died or, as we soon learn, if he is, indeed, dead. He soon senses another person there, who is in the same situation, with the same lack of knowledge of the whys and wherefores and who conveniently is Italian. Their discussion involves the issue of whether they are dead and whether they have ever been alive. They are joined by the guide who is no Virgil and who is particularly unforthcoming on their whereabouts and what is going on. Indeed, Manganelli calls him a cerrentano the Italian for quack (doctor). The narrator gets his Beatrice as the guide produces a doll and then somehow inserts the doll into the narrator’s body. The doll is alive and proceeds to eat the inside of the narrator and urinates and defecates inside him. To get rid of her, he has to play a gambling game with a clock, a sea-lion, a cat and a battered chequered flag. Yes, as you can see, we are rapidly descending into silliness. It gets worse. He goes to a city. He becomes a city. He travels round with and without the guide. He gets rid of the doll but needs her. Frankly, when I finished it (it was short so I stuck it out), I felt relieved. His idea that the hell he is in may not be hell but just a representation of everyday life is interesting but hardly original. The book has not been translated into English so, unless you read Italian, you will probably skip this book but, even if you do read Italian, I wouldn’t put it at the top of your list of books to read.
First published 1985 by Rizzoli
No English translation