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Sandro Veronesi: Caos calmo (Quiet Chaos)

Pietro Paladini has all the trappings of success. He is a well-paid TV executive, with a house in Milan, and he shares a seaside cottage in Maremma, with his brother, Carlo. He lives happily with Lara, whom he plans to marry in five days, and their ten year old daughter, Claudia. He has been unfaithful a few times but still loves Lara and has not been unfaithful recently. At the beginning of the novel, he is on holiday at the cottage, with Carlo and his current girlfriend, and Lara and Claudia. For the first time for many years, he and Carlo have gone surfing. They have just returned when they see a crowd of people shouting. They join the crowd and learn that there are two people out at sea who have been pulled away by the current and seem to be drowning. Two children call out for their mother. No-one is doing anything, so Pietro and Carlo bravely set out to rescue the victims. They split up (the two victims are separated). However, Pietro’s victim is panicking and when he tries to rescue her, she strikes out and scratches him. Eventually, he gets her from behind and, after a great struggle, rescues her. Carlo arrives soon afterwards with his victim, whom he has also rescued. But no-one takes any notice of Carlo and Pietro, only of the two victims, stretched out on the sand, waiting for the ambulance which does not seem to come. Carlo and Pietro walk off, not knowing whom they have rescued. However, when they get back to the cottage, they see why the ambulance has not come. Lara, out with Claudia, has been struck by a car and killed. The novel is about how Pietro reacts to her death.

Initially, he has to deal both with taking Claudia back to school but also with his job. The company had been taken over by a French concern but is now, apparently, in talks about a merger with a US company. There is some concern about what is going to happen. However, when Pietro takes Claudia to school, he tells her that he will wait outside the school all day for her. She thinks that he is joking but he is not. He waits all day in the car, telephoning his secretary, telling her to forward calls to his mobile and messages to his car fax. He and everybody else thinks that this is temporary. However, the next day he decides to stay outside the school. Claudia waves to him from her classroom window a couple of times. He chats to a teacher. His French boss then turns up and tells a tale of woe about the merger, feeling that he, the French boss, might be squeezed out and that there is really no need for Pietro to come to work. So he decides to sit outside Claudia’s school. And there he goes every day, waiting till it is time to pick Claudia up and take her home.

His car soon becomes a sort of confessional booth. Not only his boss but other employees come to him with their tales of woe. His brother and sister-in-law have their issues, too. And he gets to know the people who live around there – the woman who walks her dog, the man who, like Pietro, is from Rome, and is about to move back after many years in Milan, the mother with her Down’s syndrome son. Things move on, particularly with the merger. His boss’s colleague and then the head of the company they are merging with come and visit him and tell their tales of woe, and not just related to the merger. Eventually the woman he rescued from drowning also shows up and it turns that there is a twist to her story. Claudia, more or less, carries on with her life while Pietro, thinking of Lara, thinking of his life, thinking of all sorts of things such as the comets he has seen or the women he has kissed, manages to adapt to a life sitting in a car, listening to Radiohead, chatting on his cell phone, having coffee or lunch with all his visitors. Is this a life? Well, maybe it is, particularly if you are still being paid a generous salary.

What Veronesi is telling us, of course, is that life is not just job and work but a lot more, particularly family but friends, people, doing something other than promoting Pay-TV or a merger that it is going to cause nothing but problems for everyone. And as for calling it Quiet Chaos, rather than Calm Chaos, Veronesi himself uses the English expression.

Publishing history

First published 2005 by Bompiani
First published in English by Ecco Press in 2011
Translated by Michael Moore