“So forever”, there is still energy in the Italian novel

Milan, 19 Dec. (askanews) – Rankings and prizes, as we know, leave the time they find. But in certain moments and in certain cases it is right to try to bet on a reading or an interpretation, even if only for the sake of the debate that can follow. So for 2022 it is nice to be able to write that the book of the year is a novel, moreover an Italian one, capable of doing things that belong little or nothing to our traditional idea of ​​letters: “Così per semper” by Chiara Valerio (Einaudi) . A work that restores hope to a whole movement and that we like to write about again when we try to draw up a sort of balance sheet, always provisional, obviously of this year which is about to end.

“Beauty is never comforting. The consolation of beauty is an invention”. We read it on page 350 of the novel, a story that crosses time and space and has the immortal Giacomo Koch as its protagonist, who in another time was called Count Dracula, and now lives in Rome, in an attic overlooking Largo of Torre Argentina. But we were talking about beauty, and the invention of its consoling abilities, and we would like to try to overturn the reasoning: certainly literature too is an invention, indeed, to put it even more clearly, it is fiction, it is a staging . However, when it is good literature, it obviously becomes more distinguishable than reality itself, we know, it becomes more “true”, as the best critics have taught us and I am thinking, for example, of Alfonso Berardinelli (who wrote “don’t encourage the novel”, and he is often right, but in this case it was wonderful to be surprised), by what we usually call “reality”. Therefore, from this perspective, even the invention of the consolation that comes from beauty – the all-encompassing beauty of this novel by Chiara Valerio – becomes, page after page, tangible, evident, at a certain point so strong as to be poignant. Perhaps “yearning consolation” sounds like an oxymoron, but it doesn’t matter. We are talking about a book in which one gets lost, looking at the algae on the foundations of Venice or thinking about a mathematical idea which is “a kind of amphibian between being and not being, called the imaginary root”, a book which does things which Italian literature no one had ever done, and he does it with such neurotic grace that leaves every possibility open. To the novel and to us who read it. This alone could be enough to cry out for a miracle.

“Every love story is a ghost story” is the decidedly successful title of the biography of David Foster Wallace written by DT Max. I have already written too many times that Chiara Valerio resembles the American writer in many respects – for passions, brilliance , mobile intelligence – and it is almost trivial to paraphrase that title in “every love story is a vampire story”. But then, to be fair, we can use (Ockham’s) razor even more to say that every story is simply a love story. This is the case for Giacomo and for Mina Harker, his “immortal beloved”, and for the other forms that she assumes in the novel, such as the extraordinary one of 40-year-old Cecilia Lauro. And so it is, in what are perhaps the most beautiful pages ever, for Mina and Agnese, the latter mortally beloved, in the nights and days of a dense and incurable (therefore wonderful) Venice as perhaps not even Brodsky had managed to make so alive. But be careful: around these love stories there is a book that thinks like a universe, that uses its author’s brain like a knife, that plays with literature knowing full well that the only way to do it seriously is to appear light, frivolous, light-hearted. A quality – a manifestation of literary intelligence, to put it better – which among Italian writers is not so widespread, alas. In this sense, another miracle, “So forever” is a response to Jonathan Franzen’s prediction, now almost 10 years old, on the fact that the rival of the novel is (today it is like this) the TV series, with their rhythm, their apparently radical aesthetics, their enveloping narrative capacity. Chiara Valerio’s book has the strength and contemporaneity to win its game, and not with horror or mystery things, it would be too easy, but also with disturbing, amusing and brilliant cultural objects such as, for example, “Fleabag” or “The End of the F***ing World”. And of course with the historical tradition of the adventure novel, but this seems almost too obvious to point it out again.

Giacomo, Mina, Luisa, Agnese, Cecilia, Ion. The Civet cat, eternal and capable of walking vertically on walls. There are many unforgettable characters and sometimes the plot intertwines – in the space-time of the narrative – until it gets tangled. But they are pauses that do not compromise the overall architecture and that leave the field, yes, to a story of the spaces, as well as of the people, which has something amazing, something of Italo Calvino and his imaginary architectural passions (try to think of Dracula who lives inside the Invisible Cities, so to speak). We always come back here, to the theme of imagined life, which is what takes shape in literature and from there, from that Platonic idea, shapes our life. Out of the books, always assuming that for a novel like “So forever” there is an “outside”. Even Giacomo Koch, who sees everything and has lived everything, could find it difficult to answer this question.

At this point a note would be needed, a few words would be needed about Chiara Valerio and the annoyance that her person and her work sometimes arouse in many presumed custodians of “culture”. But it’s such an uninteresting topic, compared to the writer’s workforce, compared to her always unpredictable intelligence (and sensitivity), that it’s perfectly fine. Just read it, read it counts. The rest is outline.

(Leonardo Merlini)

“So forever”, there is still energy in the Italian novel