Monday, March 10, 2008

The Paper Moon, or Salvo Montalbano, vulnerable detective

After reading Andrea Camilleri's The Patience of the Spider last year, I wrote that Camilleri was giving his protagonist, Inspector Salvo Montalbano, "an ever more tender and sympathetic view of the world."

Last week, I was pleased to note than an Italian blogger had made a similar observation apropos of that novel and of Camilleri's most recently translated Montalbano book, The Paper Moon, back when the latter was published in its original language in 2005.

With the aid once again of my scraps of Italian and a moderately trusty translation program, I translated part the discussion as follows:

"Which Montalbano do we find in this book? A man whom Camilleri is aging gradually, book after book, making him more reflective, as in The Patience of the Spider."
The writer notes Montalbano's worries about aging in the new book, in particular his realizing with alarm that his memory is not what it once was. It is significant, though, that the resourceful Montalbano deals with the problem by taking notes and writing himself letters. This is of a piece with narrative devices from earlier novels, such as his mentally casting a difficult case in the form of a script in order better organize his thoughts, but it also shows more of the touching vulnerability I found in The Patience of the Spider.

The new book takes Montalbano up against Italian political corruption, of course. But, as is characteristic of the series, love, obsession and other human perversities are the real occasions of the inspector's wonderment. Once again, he is vulnerable and crotchety at the same time, which is somehow especially touching and makes him more believable than if he'd been one or the other rather than both.

What other detectives are vulnerable without tumbling into cliché?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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10 Comments:

Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Most detectives like comedians are very vulnerable it goes with the territory.
Peter Robinson's Alan Banks seemed very vulnerable and reflective when his ex wife takes a much younger lover and becomes pregnant. Alan embarks on a doomed affair with his attractive subordinate Annie Cabot.
I have not read the latest book but am hoping the poor old boy gets back with Annie or someone.

March 11, 2008  
Blogger Simona said...

Very nice analysis. Camilleri makes Montalbano touchingly human. I am waiting impatiently for the publication of his new novel.

March 11, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Uriah: I'd be interested in Banks' reaction to such a difficult situation. How would you characterize it, without engaging in too many plot spoilers? What does Robinson do to make the storyline compelling and surprising?

Simona: Yes, Camilleri has made Montalbano especially and touchingly human in the most recent two books to be translated: The Patience of the Spider and The Paper Moon. I suspect Camilleri himself has been thinking about aging and vulnerability in his own life.

March 11, 2008  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Banks from memory spends a lot of time playing rock music from the 1960s. I think I would characterize it as a serious mid life crisis and Robinson carries on the storyline through the next two books which are [from my poor memory] full of flash backs to Banks' past. A search for lost youth seems to be the theme or as in your quote in your last post fat, fifty and f**cked.

March 12, 2008  
Blogger Lisa said...

Peter, did you read The Patience of the Spider in Italian? I was going to buy it, but I found out that it isn't available in English until April. That being the case, I can't really get it read before our spring Novel Food event (and maybe make the dishes you suggested). Too bad. But there's always the summer NF event...

March 12, 2008  
Blogger Lisa said...

Peter, sorry—meant to say did you read Paper Moon, not The Patience of the Spider, in Italian!

March 12, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

I'd say the protagonist of a book called Fat, Fifty and ****ed has likely ended his search for lost youth. The title could symbolize the protagonist's epiphany, one might say.

March 12, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

Lisa, I read both books in English. My Italian is not nearly good enough for me to have read them in the original. I'm not sure I'd be able to get the flavor of Catarella's dialect, mispronunciations and malapropisms.

Also, it appears that Camilleri's August Heat is due out in August 2008, so you might have something to prepare for your autumn edition of NF as well.

March 12, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

I can think of no detective more vulnerable than Inspector Morse. (I was on the point of typing in his first name when I realized that might be a bit of a spoiler for those who have not read all the Morse novels.) What is rather astonishing, and I should say masterly, about Colin Dexter's novels, is that we know Morse has demons, but we never really know what they are or from where they come. Why did he never marry? Why didn't he complete his degree at Oxford? What makes him such a curmudgeon? Why drives him to drink, and rather more than all the novels except the last one suggest? There is great subtlety here, as there is also in making him at the same time perhaps the most cultivated of fictional detectives other than those who are dons, steeped in the arts, without resorting to simplistic devices such as having him write poetry (apologies to P.D. James) or constantly interpolating about what is playing on the radio or what he thinks of the compact discs on a suspect's shelf (apologies to Rankin, Robinson, Bruen, Harvey, and just about everybody else these days).

March 12, 2008  
Blogger Peter said...

That's an intriguing discussion of Morse. I've read just one of the novels, so I haven't experienced the cumulative effect of coming to know the character's symptoms without knowing their etiology.

As always, I cite Jo Nesbø as a notable exception among crime writers who use music as a measure of character because he does so with a lively sense of humor.

March 12, 2008  

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