‘A Perfect Hoax’ by Italo Svevo


‘A Perfect Hoax’ by Italo Svevo (1929) – 101 pages                         Translated from the Italian by J. G. Nichols

I read ‘Confessions of Zeno’ by Italo Svevo many years ago, and I was much impressed with that wonderful modernist psychological novel which James Joyce had praised. Since then I have looked for other works by Italo Svevo to read, and that is how I came upon ‘A Perfect Hoax’.

‘A Perfect Hoax’ is a pleasant little self-parody of Italo Svevo’s own writing career but not much more than that. It is not a major work.

The main character Mario Samigli from Trieste is a writer who has not had much of a career. His novels have sold only a few scattered copies in Italy. Now he is in his sixties and spends his time looking out the window watching the birds which he feeds.

Bread was of course offered to the two sparrows, because they exist so that human kindness can be offered on the cheap.”

The only writing that Mario does now are the short fables he pens about these birds which he reads to his ailing brother.

Then his so-called friend, traveling salesman Enrico Gaia, plays a cruel hoax on old Mario. Gaia tells Mario that a German publisher passing through read one of Mario’s early novels and was so impressed that he wants to translate the novel into German and sell it throughout the German-speaking countries.

Gaia’s words go straight to Mario’s head. At last he has been discovered! All those years he has struggled as a writer, and now at last he finds success!

When his book was published in German, the wonder throughout the city and the whole nation would be all the greater because it was unexpected.”

Mario is a victim of self-delusion, a malady to which would-be writers are particularly susceptible.

Italo Svevo’s career as a fiction writer parallels Mario’s except for one notable exception. While working as a bank clerk Svevo wrote a few novels which received little attention from Italian critics or readers. However Svevo did have one reader who made all the difference. That was James Joyce. When Svevo’s ‘Confessions of Zeno’ was first published in 1923, it received little fanfare, but later Joyce championed it and helped to have it translated into French and published in Paris where critics praised it extravagantly.

If you are going to read Italo Svevo, read ‘Confessions of Zeno’ which many including myself consider a masterpiece. ‘A Perfect Hoax’ has no such claims or pretensions. It is only a pleasant little read, but there’s nothing wrong with that.


Grade:    B-



2 responses to this post.

  1. I’m glad you wrote this, because it’s a reminder to me to get back on track with my desultory quest to read 1001 Books, of which Confessions of Zeno is one. People can be scornful about such canons, but really, there is a wealth of great reading in the books they recommend, and the only ones that have ever disappointed me are the very early ones, from the 17th century.
    Zeno is already on my wishlist, and I think now that I might upgrade it to the ToBuy list:)

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Over the years I’ve used certain guides to follow in my reading of literature, most notably ‘Who’s Who in 20th Century Literature’ by Martin Seymour Smith. I did find that he was too heavily weighted toward men, but he did have strong opinions about most of the male writers then That book was written in about 1977, so it doesn’t help for recent authors.
      I expect ‘1001 Books’ includes both fiction and non-fiction, and I don’t read non-fiction. Also I know nothing of the editors’ background.



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