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Alberto Moravia: L’attenzione (The Lie)

This is one of those novels where the main character is writing a novel which happens to have the same title as the novel you are reading. Gide‘s Les faux-monnayeurs (US: The Counterfeiters; UK: The Coiners) is one example (though there the similarities end.) Francesco Merighi has been away from Italy for nine years as a foreign correspondent, estranged from his wife, Cora. He returns with a novel based on his courtship of Cora. However, when he rereads it, he realises that it is essentially false. Part of the problem is that the reality of his marriage is not as idealistically portrayed in the novel. But another part of the problem is his awareness of the essential falseness of the conventional dramatic novel. He therefore decides that everyday life is what is authentic and he will note down every day the events of his life and use these notes as a basis for his novel. But of course there is no actual, objective life. Writing it down is, in itself, a filter, a falsehood, as there is selectivity, judgement, imagination all at play. So he has to make a judgement. He will only note what is relevant to his novel. He then decided that it is important to supplement reality, in other words to use his judgement and imagination. He soon realises that his diary is more authentic than the novel he wishes to write and ends up publishing the journal. Behind all of this has been his troubled personal life, primarily though by no means exclusively his relationship with his family, Cora and his stepdaughter, Baba, in whom he is sexually interested. In short, the relationship between what is real and what is not and the relation between real life and the imagined life are at the core of this novel (as they are at the core of many twentieth century novels). Moravia’s exploration of this theme is certainly interesting and well worth reading.

Publishing history

First published 1965 by Bompiani
First English translation 1966 by Farrar, Straus