‘The Young Bride’ by Alessandro Baricco (2015) – 174 pages Translated by Ann Goldstein
‘The Young Bride’ is the elegant story of an eccentric aristocratic Italian family who live all together in a mansion except for the son who is away to England on family business. The son’s eighteen year-old fiancé who now lives in Argentina shows up at the mansion one day and stays there awaiting the son’s return. The family members are never given names; instead they are referred to as the Father, The Mother, the Daughter, the Son, as well as the Young Bride. Only the old man servant who runs the household has a name; he is Modesto.
For me the best part of the novel is the first third when this strange family is grandiosely described in Baricco’s rich style. Several pages are devoted to the family’s great daily morning awakening, but I will quote only a short sample to give you a feel for Baricco’s style:
“The table for breakfasts – a term no one ever thought of using in the singular, for only a plural can conjure the richness, the abundance, and the unreasonable duration – is indeed a well-laid sea. A pagan sense of thanksgiving is evident – the escape from the catastrophe of sleep.”
Each morning three-hour breakfasts are served as thanksgiving for the family having survived the previous night.
“For a hundred and thirteen years, it should be said, all of us have died at night, in our family. That explains everything.”
‘The Young Bride’ is one of those novels which started out spectacularly strong for me, but wound up slowly dissipating my enthusiasm. For me the least effective and least comprehensible parts of the book are where Baricco experiments with changing the narration from third person to first person. These sections are near impossible to follow. The novel’s conceit is that the Young Bride is relating the story many years later. However at the beginning of the novel, the young bride is not in the house, so the narration necessarily becomes third person. Later the narration goes back to first person occasionally which jars and is confusing.
‘The Young Bride’ is just one long story not divided into chapters. If the narration changes had occurred at the chapter level, I probably could have followed them better.
The translator of ‘The Young Bride’ is Ann Goldstein, now justly famous for her Elena Ferrante translations. It is difficult to imagine two writers more different than Elena Ferrante and Alessandro Baricco. Ferrante is down to earth while Baricco writes in an over-the-top grand experimental style.