Posts Tagged ‘#NOVNOV’

‘The Light in the Piazza’ by Elizabeth Spencer – First a Novella, Then a Movie, and Then a Broadway Musical

 

‘The Light in the Piazza’ by Elizabeth Spencer    (1960) 110 pages

 

Set in Florence, Italy, the unique captivating plot of ‘The Light in the Piazza’ is likely the reason that it has inspired both a movie in 1962 and a Broadway play, a musical no less, in 2005 based on the novella. Now the musical is being put on by theater groups nearly everywhere.

Here is the setup. Mrs. Margaret Johnson and her 20 year old daughter Clara are in Florence as part of their extended stay in Italy as tourists from North Carolina. As Clara hurries to see a historical marker, she bumps into 22 year old Italian Fabrizio Naccarelli. From the get-go, he is entirely smitten with Clara, and in the following days he shows up wherever Mrs. Johnson and Clara happen to be. He buys and sends elaborate gifts to Clara, never mind that Clara can speak no Italian and Fabrizio speaks very little English. Soon Mrs. Johnson and Clara meet the entire Naccarelli family.

However there is a backstory. Due to a childhood injury when she was kicked in the head by a Palomino horse, Clara has the mental age of a child of ten. The accident with the horse has not affected Clara in any physical way nor her striking beauty. Deep in her heart of hearts, Mrs Johnson hopes that Clara can lead a normal life despite her injury. Should she encourage Fabrizio in his romantic intentions for Clara or should she discourage him? That is the question.

The author Elizabeth Spencer displays a sure grasp of human nature in this novella. What mother would not want the best for her daughter even in these difficult unusual circumstances? The language difficulties between Italian and English might conceal her daughter’s problems to some extent. Fabrizio might behave like your stereotypical Italian guy, but stereotypes arise in the first place because there is some truth of them, And of course Mrs. Johnson’s businessman husband Noel would not understand the subtleties of the situation going on here in Florence.

Although Elizabeth Spencer wrote several other well-regarded works, she will likely most always be remembered for this novella.

 

Grade:   A

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Faces’ by Tove Ditlevsen – Almost Too Painful to Read

 

‘The Faces’, a novella, by Tove Ditlevsen (1968) – 151 pages            Translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally

 

‘The Faces’ is a disturbing Danish novella that is almost too painful to read. It is about a woman’s sojourn in an insane asylum, and it is not as though she was put there wrongly or incorrectly.

At the beginning of ‘The Faces’, the renowned author Lise is lying in bed. Her fabulous writing talent is still with her. You can tell that by the words and similes she uses. However her constant use of sleeping pills has taken its toll and has done terrible damage to her psyche. You can tell she is sliding down the rabbit hole of insanity.

She has a husband, Kurt, who discusses his other mistresses with her. At the outset of ‘The Faces’, he tells his wife while she is lying in bed that one of his mistresses, Grete, has committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Later, he has the maid take Lise’s sleeping pills away from her.

Lise finds the sleeping pills in the maid’s room, and after her own overdose on sleeping pills, Lise is first taken to the unlocked ward of the insane asylum. However she scratches a woman in the face there, so she is put in the locked ward where she is belted to the bed.

She hears voices, voices from her family which tell her that her husband, her maid, and her daughter are plotting against her. She has hallucinations, and the reader can never be sure if what she hears and sees is real or not.

Do you hear voices?” she asked.

Of course,” said Lise. “You hear them too.”

No,” she said adamantly, shaking her head. “All the voices you hear come from inside yourself.”

It dawned on Lise that the whole staff must be in on the plot.

If I believed that,” she said, “I would be insane.”

You aren’t well, you know.”

Lise is hallucinating that her maid Gitte is one of the nurses in the locked ward.

Just listen to how meek she is,” said Gitte triumphantly’ “She thinks she’s going to go home again. As if anyone has ever gotten out of here alive.”

Is it true that Lise’s husband is having an affair with her daughter, his step-daughter? We don’t know if this is something that is happening or one of her hallucinations.

The author of ‘The Faces’, Tove Ditlevsen, was a renowned Danish author and poet herself. She was very prolific; in her lifetime she published 29 books. Ditlevsen struggled with alcohol and drug abuse throughout her adult life, and she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital several times. She died by suicide overdosing on sleeping pills in 1976, aged 58.

Ditlevsen’s astute use of similes and metaphors throughout ‘The Faces’ makes this novella a compelling if harrowing read.

 

Grade:   B+

 

‘At Night All Blood is Black’ by David Diop – Trench War is Hell

 

‘At Night All Blood is Black’, a novella, by David Diop  (2018) 145 pages        Translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis

 

‘At Night All Blood is Black’ has probably the best credentials of any novella or novel. It won both the prestigious French literary 2019 Prix Goncourt as well as the 2021 International Booker Prize. It is a brutal war novel depicting grisly trench battle scenes including disembowelment and evisceration during World War I. This novella is not for the faint of heart.

First a little of the background.

With World War I raging in Europe, African soldiers were forced to fight for their colonial masters between 1914 and 1918. France recruited more Africans than any other colonial power, sending 450,000 troops from West and North Africa to fight against the Germans in Europe on the front lines. These black troops were known as the Chocolat Soldiers. During the war, around 30,000 Africans died fighting on the side of France alone.

“People from Senegal, Ivory Coast and Mali died for France. It’s true that France colonized them, but it wasn’t their choice. You could almost say they died for nothing, at least not for their countries.” Clemence Kouame, an African student

‘At Night All Blood is Black’ vividly tells the ugly truth about trench warfare during World War I. Many more civilians were killed and wounded during World War II, but World War I was much worse for the soldiers who had to fight in those trenches.

This story begins with trench soldier Alfa Ndiaya from Senegal watching his more-than-brother friend Mademba Diop die after being stabbed in the stomach by a German soldier. While Mademba is pushing his own guts back into his stomach, he begs Alfa to shoot him to put him out of his misery quickly. Alfa cannot force himself to do that, and afterwards he feels tremendous guilt for not having shot his friend.

After his more-than-brother Mademba’s death, Alfa goes on his own murderous revenge spree leaving the trench each night by himself and shooting a German soldier, then using his machete to chop off the German soldier’s hand and bringing it and the German’s rifle back to the trench as trophies. He murders seven German soldiers in this fashion.

At first the French officers are very pleased with his efforts, but they begin to question his sanity.

Don’t tell me that we don’t need madness on the battlefield. God’s truth, the mad fear nothing…You’d have to be mad to obey Captain Armand when he whistles for the attack, know there is almost no chance you’ll come home alive…God’s truth, you have to be crazy to drag yourself screaming out of the belly of the beast.”

The whole idea of war, groups of people out to murder each other, is insane, but some forms of insanity are acceptable and some are not.

Temporary madness makes it possible to forget the truth about bullets. Temporary madness, in war, is bravery’s sister.”

However there are still rules about what is tolerated.

In war, when you have a problem with one of your soldiers, you get the enemy to kill him. It’s more practical.”

In one troubling scene, the French Captain Armand does exactly that.

Not all of ‘At Night All Blood is Black’ is this horrific battlefront account. When Alfa is removed from the front, he recalls scenes with his mother and family and friends back in Senegal in his childhood and youth which might or might not explain his behavior.

Up until the last 15 pages or so, I was fully prepared to give this novel my highest ranking for its clear, lucid, and moving, if grim, story line. However I cannot quite fully recommend this novella because of the somewhat incoherent ending in the last three chapters which veers drastically from the intense accurate bluntness of the novella up to this point. I can understand the reason for this incoherence. Our soldier who so blithely chops the hands off other soldiers is at a loss when his violence spills over to other parts of his life. However the last few shaky pages are quite a change for this sure-footed novel.

 

Grade:    B+

 

 

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