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Lizzy's Literary Life: "A worthy winner of Italy’s Campiello First Novel Prize."

Date: Mar 14 2013

What are the chances of following a German novel set in Scarborough with an Italian novel set in Leeds? What is the fascination with Yorkshire? Certainly not the weather.

Welcome to Leeds, says Camelia, a purulent freckle …..where the sky is as grey as a chicken thigh. It’s always winter in Leeds, anything else is a warm-up band that screams itself hoarse for two minutes and dies. The story may or may not – actually it probably does – begin in December, psychologically speaking the month most attuned to Camelia’s mood.

She is in the grip of grief for her father, who has died in a car accident with his mistress. The shock has turned Camelia’s mother into a catatonic mute and Camelia has sacrificed her place at college to return to the slum called home to care for her. It’s an isolating sacrifice because her mother communicates only in the language of looks. No words are exchanged but entire conversations take place … I suspect that at times Camelia is really talking to herself here … and we all know in that road madness lies.

Both women are eccentric at the start. Camelia’s mother expends her brief moments of activity taking photographs in the house – she never leaves it. Camelia rescues clothes from a bin and remodels them, into highly original, actually grotesque and ugly, creations. Ironically both habits lead to new relationships with the potential to thaw the metaphorical winter ….

Unfortunately life has more disappointments in store. (A bit like many warm-up bands.) Camelia is ill-equipped to cope. There are times when she appears quite lucid. As a language student of Chinese and an Italian to English translator, she is intelligent but she is not rational. It doesn’t take much for other people to unhinge her and provoke an overreaction. Oh yes, she’s happy to judge others adversely without applying some moral framework to her own behaviour. The clues are there throughout and even though I knew it could not end well, I did not foresee that ending.  A bleak winter turns nuclear.

There is a preoccupation with language in these pages with symbolic undertones and foreshadowing in the Chinese lessons. This which works even those I know nothing about Chinese. For those who do, there are even greater depths to appreciate.

And all this from an author in her early twenties – a worthy winner of Italy’s Campiello First Novel Prize.

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