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Edoardo Sanguineti: Capriccio italiano

With the whimsical title and the fact that Sanguineti is a noted poet, I expected a poetical novel but this is anything but. Rather it is an experimental novel, very much of its time, reminding me of the films of Antonioni, the plays of Harold Pinter or the works of Samuel Beckett. The story concerns a couple – we learn their names (Edoardo and Luciana) only towards the end of the book. The book tells of their various marital and personal problems, as they are expecting their third child. We first meet them in a hotel where they and a group of others, identified only by a single letter (A, B, C, E, G, H, O and R), except for one man called Black Belt, because he has one, are at some sort of party. We can generally only identify the sex of the eight lettered people because Italian fortunately has a masculine/feminine for both adjectives and participles. People come and go at this party. The narrator goes back to his room, to sleep with his wife (he considers having sex with her but does not do so). When he wakes up, she has gone out, leaving him a note. He later learns that she has been involved in a car accident. He slips into and out of dreams at this point and when he wakes to find her, covered in blood, but being treated by C (a woman), it is not clear if this is still part of his dream or the (dream-like) reality.

We learn more, at this point, of his past amorous adventures, of his (future) son, of strange places, mysterious phone calls and even Martians who seem to appear. Much of the story takes place in a hotel but which, at the same time, seems to be a hospital where Luciana will give birth to their son. Play is also key, with card games and other games (guess the novel, for example, initiated by M, the doctor) appearing throughout. The body – both as a source of eroticism but also injured, diseased and, of course, giving birth – is also key throughout. So what is his novel about? It is not really clear, at least to me. For once, I have to say that I can understand why English-language publishers hesitated at publishing this in English.

Publishing history

First published 1963 by Feltrinelli
No English translation
Published in French as Capriccio italiano by Éditions du Seuil in 1964
Translated by Jean Thibaudeau
Published in German as Capriccio italiano by Suhrkamp in 1964
Translated by Arianna Giachi
Note it has also been translated into Croatian and Korean