In a Nutshell: While this may be the shortest novel that Niccolò Ammaniti has published to date, it’s no less powerful than any of his other works of fiction. Containing all of the signature themes that have made Ammaniti the stand out storyteller that he is, Me and You stands as a perfect taster for those who have yet to have the pleasure of reading anything from this gifted writer. What’s more there’s plenty of meat on the bone of this one too, for the most ravenous of established Ammaniti fans. Magnificently entertaining.
I think I made it quite clear in my forethoughts just how excited I was about reading the latest novel of Niccolò Ammaniti to hit the UK, so much so that I ended that forethoughts post by saying that I feared that I may have set my expectations a little too high. I needn’t have worried because Me and You (Canongate Books) turned out to be everything that I hoped it would be, and more.
Ammaniti’s ‘trademark’ themes present themselves
Dark and moderately disturbing, this latest offering from Ammaniti has crammed within its slender 160 pages, much more than you might expect. All of the recognisable themes that have made Ammaniti the stand out writer that he is, are present. There’s the oddball characters who find themselves in situations that they have difficulty coping with. There’s the coming-of-age theme in which a teenager on the cusp of adulthood is played around with. And there’s also the omnipresent present ‘shock factor’, which raises its head throughout the novel, before reaching fruition in the closing sentences, when a lasting imprint is stamped forcibly on the reader.
The story itself (minor spoilers)
The story itself centres around fourteen-year-old Lorenzo who suffers from some form of autism. His condition makes him socially inept, and in his short life he has managed to distance himself from all but his closest family members.
At primary school Lorenzo’s condition first shows itself in the form of angry and violent outbursts. His emotions boil over when picked upon by others, and knowing this was an unacceptable way to act, he learns to cope by keeping himself as separate from his classmates as much as possible, while trying not to stand out too much.
The situation changes for Lorenzo when he heads off to high school and he realises that he can’t, as he has done up until that point, simply fade into the background. ‘The predators have evolved’ as he puts it, and ‘they move around in herds singling out those who are different’. Taking inspiration from a documentary where insects mimic other insects in order to survive, Lorenzo begins to dress and act like his peers in order to fit in. The tactic works, but as he maintains this persona and becomes more like his peers, he yearns to spend time with them, especially when he overhears a group talking of their plans to go skiing in the Dolomites.
Lorenzo believes he is no different from this group (‘They too were flies pretending to be wasps,’ he says), and despite never being invited, Lorenzo rushes home to tell his Mum that he’s been asked to join the skiing group.
Given the fact that he’s a loner and he’s never been invited to anything, Lorenzo’s mum is understandably delighted, not to mention emotional. Lorenzo realises that he can’t go back on his lie and tell his Mum the truth, so he concocts a plan to hole up in the cellar of the luxury apartment block that he lives in, so he can keep up the pretence to his parents that he’s away on the ski trip.
All seems to go well. Lorenzo with his analytical way of thinking has really thought this one through, but what he doesn’t plan for is an unexpected visitor, and it’s a visitor who has personal traits that will conflict greatly with Lorenzo’s sensivitives.
Being so short a novel, there’s little more I can reveal without going into spoiler territory, but I will tell you something of the characters to be found in Me and You. Ammaniti is renowned for populating his novels with colourful and quirky characters, and there are plenty to be found in Me and You too. From the socially inept Lorenzo, to his rebellious half-sister Olivia – who provides much of the novel’s shock factor – quirky personalities are abound in this novel. One of my absolute favourites is the underplayed caretaker of the luxury apartments, the ‘Silver Monkey’. He spends much of his time lethargically sweeping the courtyard while fighting off sleepiness; a condition imbued in him following an apartment break-in when gypsies sprayed him with anaesthetic.
The translator succeeds
The biggest fear I had going into this novel – and it was one I expressed most strongly in my forethoughts – was one regarding ‘voice’. With a change in English translator from Ammaniti’s previous novels, I was worried that Kylee Doust would give a completely different voice to Ammaniti, from that of Jonathan Hunt. I’m happy to say that my fears were completely unfounded. Doust has given the English reader of Ammaniti as flawless and as faithful a translation as anything rendered by his previous translator. If anything, Doust has actually sharpened up Ammaniti’s translated prose a little, and that’s something I would never have thought possible.
In bringing these afterthoughts to a close, I’ve got to say that I’m delighted with this latest offering from Niccolò Ammaniti. He explores his themes to a depth that one would not expect in a novel of such short length, and no theme more so than that of personal relationship. He has thrilled and entertained me to the same level that he has with all of his novels thus far, and I have no hestitation in recommending Me and You to anyone. For the newcomer to Niccolò Ammaniti, Me and You stands as a fine ‘quick bite’ testament to what this hugely talented author is capable of. I’d even go as far as recommending this novel to anyone who is put off by translated fiction. In the space of a lowly 160 pages, Niccolò Ammaniti shows that foreign fiction can be enjoyable, readable and completely engaging. I await more from this literary genius, with great impatience.
:: *What others have said about Me and You::
- “This is a powerful novel, which asks us to consider the relationships we have with our own siblings and the memories of our own adolescence” – Emilia Ippolito, The Independent.
- “beautifully captures that time on the cusp of adulthood when our childish view of the world is changed forever” – Kimbofo, Reading Matters.
- “I fail to see where Ammaniti adds anything new to the all-too familiar teen-boy coming of age narrative” – Carley Parsons, Three Percent
*So as not to influence my own impressions, these review summaries are gathered after my review has been written.
Canongate Books | 2nd February 2012 | £10.00 | HARDBACK | 160 PP | ISBN: 9780857861979