Friday, January 18, 2013

Contemporary Italian Literature


A foreign reader who wants to better understand the contemporary Italian literary landscape is much like an explorer who decides to explore a tropical forest. Just like in a large forest, an explorer can discover ancient trees that still stand vigorously beside younger plants that produce new flowers. On rough lands, uncommon plants also grow, hybrid creatures that are defined as “unidentified narrative objects”.

The '30s/'40s' generation

We begin by taking a look at the ancient trees. Most of the Italian writers who established themselves as successful writers during the '80s are still very prolific. Just think about world-renowned novelists such as Umberto Eco (1937-) and Antonio Tabucchi (1943-). After the release of Il nome della rosa (1980), Umberto Eco wrote four more novels, of which the last one (La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana) was published in 2004. At the same time, Antonio Tabucchi wrote his last novel, Tristano muore. Other very important writers are Andrea Camilleri, Gianni Celati and Dacia Maraini.

The '50s/'60s generation

A very productive literary generation is formed by writers who were born during the '50s/'60s. The first characteristic shared by all these authors is that they are all true novelists; the novel, at that time, was predominant in the literary universe. The abandon of avant-garde forms in favour of more traditional narrative structures is the distinguishing feature of this generation of authors (who have been defined as ‘young narrators’). This generation is also known for its preference for the “novel sub-genre”: historical novels, educational novels, detective stories and graphic novels.

If it were possible to name only one author among the most well-known authors of graphic novels, it would have to be Stefano Benni. However, how could we choose only one name among Carlo Lucarelli, Marcello Fois, Massimo Carlotto and Giancarlo di Cataldo, just to mention a few of the most important contemporary authors of detective stories? The four writers cited use the lies and the secrets of the official history, usually contemporary Italian history, as the focus of their intrigues.

What is interesting to note is that Carlotto and Di Cataldo began to write as a way to explore their own personal experiences with the law: the former as prisoner and the last as judicial officer. Even though we can’t properly consider Due di due of Andrea de Carlo (1989), Jack frusciante è uscito dal gruppo of Enrico Brizzi (1994) or Tu, mio of Erri de Luca (1999) as educational novels, they nevertheless attest to the writers’ new interest in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Some examples of this stream are the books for teenagers of Federico Moccia (the most famous is Tre metri sopra il cielo, published in 20041 ) that have been very successful with adolescents.

Concerning historical novels, contemporary Italian authors have abandoned the genre introduced by Manzoni, “verism”, or the genres introduced by Vasco Pratolini and Beppe Fenoglio. Many contemporary writers, even if well documented, seem to enjoy ‘playing’ with history. This is obvious in the example of « uchronies », a novel genre based on the principle of re-writing the history starting from changing a specific event that happened in the past. The novels of the collective from Bologna, Wu Ming (L'occhio di Carafa, 1999; 54, 2002; Manituana, 2007), and the novel of Giuseppe Genna, Hitler(2008), are valid examples of this new stream of historical novel. Among this ‘young narrators’ that were born in the '50s, we cannot forget to mention Alessandro Baricco, whose novels have been translated everywhere in Europe, Asia and America.

Conclusion : hybrid creatures and amphibious creatures

To complete this brief introduction to the contemporary Italian literary landscape, I would like to stress the hybrid and multiform nature of most contemporary novels and their authors.

Among the best books published in the last fifteen years, there are some that are hard to define simply as novels. One of the writers of the collective Wu Ming coined the phrase “unidentified narrative objects” to define this category of pseudo-novels. These books cannot be properly considered novels because the stories they tell are not strictly fiction. Just think about Gomorra of Roberto Saviano, defined by critics as an “investigation-novel” or a “non-fictitious novel”. Furthermore, “unidentified narrative objects” are characterized by a mixed form that lies between fiction and essay. An interesting example of this is Magris' work Microcosmi (1997).

Besides these chameleons, there exist other kinds of creatures that adapt themselves to every habitat. As we have already mentioned, an example of these writers is Giancarlo di Cataldo, author ofRomanzo criminale (2006), who is at the same time a writer, scriptwriter and judicial officer. Another novelist who has a double identity is Andrea Camilleri, also director of a TV show inspired by his novels, Il commissario Montalbano. One more composer of detective stories is Carlo Lucarelli, who is also a host, a television screenwriter, and a journalist.
The book was initially published in 2002 but only in 2004 became a successful best seller.

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