Stefania Rega interviewed the Italian writer Gianrico Carofiglio for Absinthe.
To Judge and Tell:
An Interview with Gianrico Carofiglio
by Stefania Rega
Gianrico Carofiglio's first novel, Testimone inconsapevole (Involuntary Witness), was published in 2002. At that time, he was just over 40 and was working as a judge in Bari, southern Italy. Since then, he has published four more novels, including Il passato è una terra straniera, which has recently been made into a film. He has also written a graphic novel (Cacciatori nelle tenebre, 2007) and an essay about the power of words. His most recent prizes include Bremen Prize and the Grinzane Cavour Noir.
He is considered the only notable representative of Italian legal-thriller fiction.
With his elegant prose, Carofiglio unfolds his stories of common life characters involved in judicial cases against the unfailing background of his home town. His books are small paintings of common lives troubled by a crime before eventually returning to their quiet normality. His best known character is the lawyer Guerrieri, the lead of three of Carofiglio's novels — in addition to the one already mentioned, there is also Ad occhi chiusi (2003) and Ragionevoli dubbi (2007). Clearly fallible as he struggles with his indecisions and questions, Guerrieri embodies a sort of new hero, one that any reader can identify with.
In this interview, Carofiglio talks about himself and his novels, but also reflects on more general issues regarding literature and fiction.
Q: Your most famous character, Guido Guerrieri, is a great lawyer who brilliantly wins his cases. Nevertheless, it seems that most of his investigations are solved by chance and not so much by skill. And also he isn't so successful in his personal life. He actually seems a sort of anti-hero. Does his character signal a cultural and epochal indication? Is Guido Guerrieri the true modern hero?
A: In the real world investigations and trials are much more ruled by chance than in films and novels, or at least in certain novels. In my stories, I always strive to reproduce the procedures of the real world. If my readers, as it actually happens, find that Guerrieri is a sort of anti-hero… well, I am happy about that.
Q: You have often pointed out the wearing out of words, the progressive fading of their meaning. Yet, lawyer Guerrieri wins using his dialectical skills more often than by the evidence he provides. Is it the lack of the objective truth that leaves space for pure rhetoric?
A: On the contrary. Guerrieri wins (when he does) because he can use words that have a meaning. And that's totally different from the worst rhetoric.
Q: Speaking of words, your novels have been translated into many languages. Do you think that translations take something away from a literary text?
A: It depends. Good translations can teach many things to the author himself.
Q: You have also written a graphic novel together with your brother Francesco, the illustrator. In your opinion, is the combination of words and images another literary genre?
A: Yes, sure. It is a completely different language.
Q: Novels, graphic novel, film. How important is the means of expression to the telling of a story?
A: It depends. There are stories that can be told in many ways, others that require what is, still today, the most sophisticated form of expression: the novel.
Q: Other Italian authors of genre fiction — Faletti, Camilleri, etc. — are also best sellers. Why is this kind of literature so successful, in your opinion?
A: Many readers feel attracted by the dark side of these types of stories and from the chance that thrillers and noir offer to glimpse at least the basics of order among the disarray of crime.
Q: We had many great novelists in Italy after World War II: Calvino, Pavese, Moravia, Morante, Deledda … After one generation, how is the health of Italian narrative, in your opinion?
A: There are many talented writers in Italy right now. Some of them are really good, but none is truly enthralling.
Q: Besides being a writer, you are also a judge. Like you, many other contemporary Italian writers have another job. In the list of best-selling books we can find judges, comedians, physicists, screenwriters. Why do you think so many writers do not come directly from the Art of Letters?
A: Well, first of all most of these bestselling authors do not write novels, even if they try to tell stories. Apart from that, it has always happened that a good number of writers come from other professions, sometimes very different from literature.
Q: How did your work as a novelist emerge from your activity as a magistrate? I mean, in what way does being a judge support your storytelling?
A: As a boy, I did not want to be a judge, but a writer. That said, there is no doubt that being a judge provided me an almost unlimited mine of stories and characters. It's not an insignificant advantage if, one day, you start writing novels.
Q: You are also a Senator of the Republic. Do you think that literature also has a political aim or that it should respond exclusively to aesthetic criteria?
A: I think literature has an ineludible ethical value and that the worst sin for a writer is dishonesty, is using nickel-and-dime tricks, is being disrespectful to the reader.
Rome, August 2009
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