Malacqua – Nicola Pugliese (translated by Shaun Whiteside)

Malacqua

I have been extremely lax in my blog duties, with many, many titles being read and unreviewed, promises made of updates on my Proust journey or updates on progress through Arno Schmidt’s “Bottom’s Dream” and it has all come to naught, hopefully over the coming weeks I can make some time to update you on a bunch of titles I have recently read, or am reading.

Today an upcoming publication,  “Malcqua: Four Days of Rain in the City of Naples, Waiting for the Occurrence of an Extraordinary Event” is a novel originally published in 1977, the author did not allow a reprint, and it is only after Nicola Pugliese’s death that the book has now returned to the shelves. The original book, “Malcqua” was published by Italian writer Italo Calvino and is now available for the first time in English from independent publisher And Other Stories. “Malacqua” is similar to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, being set in Naples, however I think this is the only thing they have in common (besides originally being written in Italian).

Although “Malacqua” has one steady character throughout, in journalist Carlo Andreoli, following him during four days of endless rain, the real protagonist of our story is the city of Naples itself.

And on the city this veil of rain, and they were aware of the waiting, waiting as draining as an animal’s agony, alive and dense as an interminable outpouring of blood. The horse lies supine on the asphalt of Via Partenope, the powerful cage of its chest rising as it breathes, and the silence all around is palpable, and from the horse’s nostrils the blood gushes and gushes. There is little left to say: That it was part of a team of eight, and that on the sea of Via Partenope, along with his seven travelling companions, with the coachman, and with the gravediggers, it had set off on its last dignified job: the collection, carriage and disposal of the corpse of a name who had expired the previous night, in his bed, in his own sheets, with the breath of his children on his face. The horse, however, was dying alone, yes, truly alone, a horse on the asphalt breathing its last, his heart giving up?, what?, through the veil of rain that was coming down and fraying the city’s edges you could sense the unease and the sad presentiment: life would have to change. And perhaps it was changing at that very moment. In the greyish weft of silence, the rain came down as a warning and an admonition, it came down and it grew, black regret unwaveringly consolidating between rib and rib, and in the bones that rainy dampness, and that disconnected noise that suddenly detached objects and people, built walls, and green partitions, and drove newly pregnant women into their houses and constrained them there, besieged.

The novel takes place over four days of incessant rain, firstly sinkholes appear, the next day mysterious voices start coming from the Maschio Angioino but their source cannot be found, on the third day five-lira coins start playing music which can only heard by ten-year-old girls, day four… “waiting for the occurrence of an extraordinary event”…

Through looping repetitive prose Pugliese creates a labyrinthine effect, as a reader you become lost in the darkness and rain, just like the characters themselves;

The men had begun to desert the offices and factories, the banks and offices. It wasn’t fear, it wasn’t that, just a sad presentiment…

In some ways you could treat this as a mystery story, is there a link between the sinkholes and collapsing buildings and the mysterious voices? What will be the “extraordinary event” referred to in the title? However at the core of this novel is a tale of loss, a story of despair.

Each chapter introduces small character studies, the anguished lives of dread, all against the never ending backdrop of ceaseless rain.

The meandering paragraphs that can run for many pages cause time to become distorted, in the time it takes to have a shave an existentialist crisis can occur, and the four days of rain feel like months, however some events happen rapidly, for example a death is quickly followed by a funeral, and other simple events can take hours.

How, in the end, do we tell the story of that distorted anxiety that climbs, and pants, and groans, and that voice that sails and flies across the asphalt: on his hands now it descended to press on the provisionality of an inconclusive gloomy and unbreakable presentiment which still drags glowing decorations down into the mud of anxiety. It goes on now, it goes on drawing assents to shame, the uncertain fear.

The future is very bleak indeed, even when awaiting an “extraordinary event”.

A masterful engrossing tale of decay and loss, the City of Naples moving into the modern era, not a style for readers of straight narrative plots, but one that hooks you into the darkness and bleakness of a city that is subjected to an event that cannot be controlled. Yet another fine addition to the And Other Stories collection.

As a subscriber to And Other Stories publications I receive the titles ahead of the general public release. This title is due for release on 14 November and unfortunately it is ineligible for the Man Booker International Prize as the author needs to be living to be eligible for that award, otherwise I would be tipping it to be in contention.

9 thoughts on “Malacqua – Nicola Pugliese (translated by Shaun Whiteside)

    • I did a bit of research however my Italian being poor I was unable to find a reason for withdrawal – And Other Stories refer to it as a mystery.
      Nicola is male BTW – I should have been clearer!!

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      • Fascinating. BTW I Googled And Other Stories and while I resisted the temptation to subscribe (I’ve been down that road before and prefer an ad hoc approach to book buying) I did buy one of their titles that sounds really good. Fishpond tells me it’s on its way already…

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      • I have an “on & off” relationship with subscriptions, two poor titles in a row, or too many similar titles & I stop. Months later I return when I notice a title I want. I joined And Other Stories years ago when Deborah Levy’s “Swimming Home” made the Booker shortlist & stopped because they wouldn’t reply to emails to correct my name in the back of the books (a small thing that became a frustration). I started again just for this title, let’s see what the future titles hold!!

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  1. At last! On the day I was about to give up and contact the publisher, my copy finally arrived! This sounds so good though I likely won’t get to it until closer to release date it is nice to know I have it. (Now to find the other five books that I’m expecting from the UK…)

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  2. Well, I only subscribed to Pushkin, and I didn’t have any delivery troubles, and I did find their books good to read… but it was like subscribing to literary journals, they pile up unread, and then I feel guilty and read them just to stop them piling up. Which is not why one should read. One should read for pleasure, or failing that, for work or for study. But not because there’s another one coming in a month and they are piling up.

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    • I would have at least 50 literary journals unread – similar to yourself I don’t think I’ll renew subscriptions but I did join to support the writers so I feel a little reticent to make a hasty decision

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      • Maybe not 50, but I’ve still got Griffith Reviews and some part-read from ABR, Latrobe Journal and Writers Victoria from ages ago, plus two recent Quarterly Essays (one that didn’t appeal and one that I haven’t found time for) and five of my Pushkin subs. I’ve got two Meanjins as well, though I don’t know where they came from because I don’t remember subscribing to Meanjin. The thing is, they are all really good (especially the Griffith Review) but at the end of the day I’m choosy about the topics I want to read and usually, I’d rather read a novel!

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      • I have Griffiths Review, Southerly (the latest I have a piece in there – I read that!), Westerly, Island, Lifted Brow & I’m sure there are others, they turn up at the rate of knots!

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