Come prima delle madre
But don’t be fooled, I read it in Danish – although I am seriously in the mood to learn some Italian as it sounds so passionate, I make no pretense of knowing the Italian language past ‘ciao bella’- but a good language to scold someone in.
The novel takes place in Italy and reeks of Oedipal confrontation with a twist.
Come prima delle madre begins with the little boy Pietro, who is sent off to boarding school after his childhood friend Irina mysteriously dies.
He has angst – concerning his relationship with his mother, as she grows more and more distant and cold towards him, concerning his friend’s death, concerning the boys and the teachers in school, and pretty much his whole existence. He is at a turning point in his life, the shift from childhood to adulthood, and he is confused. He has terrible abandonment issues that manifest themselves when the symbiotic bond between mother and child is severed. Incidentally this takes place during the last throws of WWII and Pietro comes home from boarding school after an incident with a nearly half-dead boy leaves him to blame, and the school is also forced to close down because of the war. When he comes home, his longing for his mother is not set at ease. There is no turning back to the comforting arms, that are now drunk, drugged and caressing a man that is not his father. His innocence is being chipped off him, bit by bit, with death, abandonment, sexual debut and betrayal going through the story like rings on still water. When he finds his dead friend’s diary and letters, he is let into a world of deceit and behind the scenery of family ties.
The story’s point of view makes a shift halfway through the novel to the mother and her story. Which is interesting, because it seems like Vinci doesn’t want Pietro’s mother to go unexplained – maybe because the harsh criticism of a mother’s role would be to detrimental to the storyline – so she gives her a voice. Turns out she has had quite her own turbulent life – leaving her mother and brothers behind she goes off with a homicidal maniac to Berlin (not that she knows that at first, but he does carry a gun, so she cannot act the part of complete innocence). He ends up incarcerated, she is left pregnant with only the man’s accomplice as a ‘friend’, and somehow married off to a wealthy man like some sort of bargaining calf. Her story is as such no fairy tale, but one that rings of familiarity – you know the one; a woman, naive and victimized, is forced to make the best of it, ends up brutally cold, deteriorating from the inside and fighting hands and claws to secure herself, her position and her kin. Which is questionable, a bit tiresome, but in the end makes for a good storyline.
The main conflict – the one between the boy and his mother – has a very sinister ending. Pietro’s feelings for his mother, the nostalgic memory of comfort tied up with the very harsh abandonment, leaves him disguising his wrath as a form of pious righteousness. And in a way, the abandonment has struck so hard that he takes steps to resolve and stand up against this mother figure he no longer feels ties to that maybe he cannot foresee the consequences of.
I won’t go to much into all the nooks and crannies because I do think it is worth a read without me recounting all the details.
I sense through the translation that is is a beautiful language, very cold – in a way like Oksanen, although not as brutal, more verging on the poetic side. I would maybe have liked the ending to be maybe 5 pages longer, it is a bit too abrupt for my taste. But all in all worth a read and a debate.