Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A deadpan novel by the father of Italian noir

The deadpan description in the opening chapters of Giorgio Scerbanenco's Duca and the Milan Murders (1966) reminded me of Jean-Patrick Manchette. That French author, I once wrote, restored crime writing's ability to shock "with tales of what power can do to those it finds convenient to crush."

So I was pleased to read in the Wikipedia article about Scerbanenco that "his style was notable for the realistic way in which [it] conveyed and evoked the helplessness and despair of weak people being cruelly victimized."

One interesting note: While Manchette was a man of the political left, the Ukrainian-born Scerbanenco's "virulent and over-the-top anti-communism ... stemmed from the trauma of losing his father during the Russian revolution," according to the same article. Before New Rightniks claim him as one of their own, though, they should note that

"While denouncing the evils of the rampant consumeristic and greedy way of life taking hold from the 60s onward Scerbanenco always has a warm word for the peaceful, quiet, hard-working Milanese"
A French translation of Duca and the Milan Murders won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for international crime fiction in 1968 (The novel's Italian title, Traditori di tutti, translates as Betrayers of All.) Scerbanenco is considered the father of Italian noir, and Italy's top crime fiction prize is named for him.

None of Scerbanenco's work is in print in English, as far as I know. If they would consider reprints, this book would make a fine addition to Europa Editions or Serpent's Tail's lists alongside such authors as Carlo Lucarelli, Jean-Claude Izzo, Gene Kerrigan and Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.

Here's a bit about the author and the book. And here's a short excerpt:

"Dr. Duca Lamberti?"

The voice, too, was offensive in its exemplary politeness, its exemplary diction. It was a voice that would have done credit to a teacher of elocution. Duca detested perfection of this sort.

"Yes, I am Duca Lamberti." He stood there blocking the doorway. He did not invite the caller in. The way he dressed seemed to Duca odious. Admittedly, it was spring, but this young man was already going about in a cardigan, no jacket, just this light grey cardigan with dark grey suede cuffs, and—in case anybody should imagine that he could not afford a jacket—he was carrying a pair of light gray driving-gloves, not the cheap kind with no backs, but real gloves, good gloves, with leather backs and intricately crocheted palms. It was impossible to avoid noticing these details. The gloves were very much on show, as though to make it quite plain that their owner possessed a car worthy of such a handsome pair of gloves.

"May I come in?" He was glowing with cordiality, insincere cordiality, insincerely spontaneous.
© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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7 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I know nothing about Italian and cant speak a word (but that of course wont stop me commenting) but I wonder if the annoyance about the excessive politeness is a typial reaction by a speaker of a regional diglossia to someone speaking in the official language dialect.

Whenever I lived in London I sometimes thought that a speaker's excessive politeness was in fact a form of insolence when actually it probably wasn't and was more likely to do with the chip on my shoulder about my own regional dialect.

September 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One wonders if the author's Ukrainian birth rendered him self-conscious about his own Italian accent and, hence, sensitive to slights such as excessive politeness might imply.

Have you read this novel? The narration will often make observations about a character's accent and dialect -- about detecting a Milanese accent under the standard pronunciation, for example.

September 28, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I havent. Its more than just accents though isnt it in Italy. Sardinians, Neapolitans, Siclians etc. betray their geography not just by their accent but by their dialect dont they? At least I think they do. A colleague of my wife's told me that she the language she speaks at home (she's from Sardinia) would be completely incomprehensible to a Roman, but of course when conversing in an official context she "talks proper."

September 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Scerbanenco makes much of dialect, too, a veneer of accent failing to cover a dialent, and so on.

Andrea Camilleri is another Italian crime writer who makes much of the differences between Sicilian and Italian.

I could draw an accent map in the shape of a crescent from Padua to Ravenna to Tuscany based on the way the locals say, "Buon giorno." And the Roman pronunciation of "Caracalla," as in "Baths of ... ," was a real surprise.

September 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I also had a colleague whose mother was born in Abruzzo. I heard her talking on the phone to her mum one night, and I recognized the language as something related to Italian, but with much sharper consonants. I asked her about this after she got off the phone, and it turned out that she had, in fact, been speaking an Abruzzese dialect.

September 28, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

You should do so and submit it to Strange Maps.

I like like this site which tells you what Swiss Dialect of German you speak.. The variations for "window" are pretty surprising.

September 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Strange Maps is way cool! I don't think mine is strange enough, though. It's well established that the Venetian dialect often has "z" where standard, or Tuscan, dialect has "gi." The early-sixteenth-century painter Giorgione will be called "Zorzi" in documents, for example. Padua is near Venice, so to hear, "Buon zorno" there was an enlightening experience though hardly a shock.

Nor was it a shock to hear the standard pronunciation in Tuscany. The surprise to me was hearing a pronunciation in Ravenna that was something between the two.

The Swiss crime writer Friedrich Glauser would have characters switch from Bernese dialect to standard German in official contexts. He'd also try to capture the dialects of the different Swiss cantons This posed a challenge to his English translator.

September 28, 2010  

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