Dacia Maraini: Voci (Voices)
At one level this novel is a mystery – who murdered Angela Bari? But, like Maraini’s other works, it is a whole lot more. It is, of course, about the treatment of women but also about the treatment of truth.
Michela Canova, a radio journalist, returns to her apartment in Rome from a business trip to Marseilles to find that her neighbour, Angela Bari, has been brutally murdered. Canova barely knew Bari but she had occasionally spoken to her. The police have no clue as to who committed the murder. On reporting back to work, her boss, eager to attract more women listeners, asks her to do a series on crimes against women. Canova finds (and reports throughout the book) that women get a rough deal on the crime front. Crimes against women are less likely to be reported. Domestic crimes are far more likely to be again women. But is the Bari murder that naturally attracts her. She is soon working with the police inspector, Adela Sófia, who naturally has a more matter-of-fact view of the crime. But Canova does not always tell the police everything.
She soon meets not only Bari’s mother, sister and brother-in-law but also tracks down a prostitute, Sabrina (though this turns out not to be her real name) who claims Bari was also a prostitute. She eventually meets Sabrina’s pimp, who may or may not have been Bari’s pimp as well. As with any good mystery, the truth is never clear, changing all the time as first one and then another character becomes a suspect and changes his/her story. Even Canova’s boyfriend, also a journalist, who is covering a conference in Angola, is implicated.
But Maraini is also concerned with the treatment of women. There is not only the issue of violent crimes against women (not all committed by men). There is the sexism that she and her colleagues face in the office from the male director and some of the male staff. There is the situation of women like Sabrina who are forced into prostitution and suffer at the hand of pimps and clients. There is the old cat woman and the woman who has visions of the Virgin and who is therefore not to be trusted and, eventually, the women who are molested by their guardians when children. In short, the experience of women in Italy is subtly but firmly exposed. So read it as a good mystery, which it is, or read it as a story about truth and the role of women. Whichever you choose, it is a first-class novel.
First published in Italian 1994 by Rizzoli
First English translation 1997 by Serpent’s Tail