*Please note, I’ve now posted my afterthoughts for Me and You.
It’s not every day that I’ll leapfrog a new arrival to the top of my review pile (especially while I’m reading as a shadow judge for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), but then again it’s not every day that a new translated novel comes along from the hugely talented Italian author, Niccolò Ammaniti. Be warned, I may get a little overexcited in this forethoughts post .
Me and You (originally published in Italian under the title, Io e te) is the latest novel from Ammaniti to arrive in the UK, courtesy of the wonderful Canongate Books who have brought all of Ammaniti’s novels to the English language (I’m indebted to them ). It’s been three long years since the publication of his previous English translation, The Crossroads (you can read my rather sparkling 2009 review of it, HERE), and so a new publication from Ammaniti has been a long time in coming.
The first thing that I notice about Me and You is how thin it is. Two out of three of Niccolò Ammaniti’s previous novels have all weighed in at over 400 pages, yet this latest offering only amounts to a measly 160 pages. I’m not particularly concerned about this however, because I know that this author is capable of packing a very big punch into a small amount of space. He did so with one of my all-time contemporary favourites – I’m Not Scared, which itself is only slightly longer at 250 pages.
So I’m expecting a big punch from Me and You. partly because I know the kind of novel that Ammaniti writes, but also because the cover blurb suggests it:
Hiding out in his parents’ cellar, Lorenzo is about to discover what dark secrets lurk beneath the surface of his respectable Italian family.
Me and You is a compulsive and deeply affecting account of how an alliance between two outsiders blows open one family’s secrets.
Ammaniti’s latest masterpiece is a breathtaking tale of shame, acceptance and wanting to be loved.
Short and sweet the synopsis may be, but it’s also highly revealing. If you’ve read Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared then you will no doubt be reminded of it instantly. I’m Not Scared follows the story of a boy who discovers a shocking secret which changes his life forever. You and Me looks to be on a very similar theme. This no bad thing because Ammaniti is the master of ‘shocking discoveries’ and their affecting repercussions as he is with the coming-of-age/loss of innocence theme. So I’m delighted to discover that he’s sticking to this winning formula, and not going down a completely different, and perhaps less compelling route. I’m expecting You and Me to be as dank and as dark as the cellar I’m imagining, in which Lorenzo makes his discovery.
Speaking about Ammaniti at this time is like remembering a long lost friend. I was blown away by this writer early in 2009 when The Crossroads was published (I even got the opportunity to speak to him, albeit virtually), not least because in the time leading up to that novel’s publication I hungrily feasted on Ammaniti’s two other novels – Steal You Away, and the aforementioned I’m Not Scared. I consider this to have been one of the most incredible reading experiences I’ve had and mainly because Ammaniti’s writing excited me so much. His engaging storytelling is full of high drama and shock and it’s difficult to pull oneself away from the page. At that time I had found everything that I had been looking for in a contemporary translated author, and as a consequence he was added then to my list of all-time favourite writers, which is quite an achievement given that most of the writers on my all-time favourites list are classic authors.
After the Ammaniti reading frenzy I moved on, and I guess I forgot about him again. That is until a couple of weeks ago when I discovered, by chance, that Canongate were publishing this new Ammaniti translation. All the love and passion for the Italian literary maestro came rushing back to me instantly, and I sit here now with the book in front of me, barely able to compose this forethoughts post, because all I want to do is to read the book.
So I think you can see just how excited I am about reading Me and You, but I worry a little that I may from the outset be setting my expectations far too far. Thing is, I can’t help it. Ammaniti has never let me down with his storytelling so far, and I don’t expect him to now. There is however, a tiny niggle in my head.
It would be easy to say that it’s the novel’s short length that’s causing the niggle in my head, but I’ve already said that Ammaniti can pack a big punch in a small space, and I expect that punch to come in this novel. No, the niggle comes from noticing that Canongate (or is Ammaniti himself?) have employed the services of a new translator in Kylee Doust for this book. I should be quick to add that I’m not suggesting that Doust is in any way a bad translator (she’s hardly likely to be given that she’s not only studied Italian literature and linguistics at La Trobe Univbersity, Melbourne but she’s also lived in Italy since 1998), it’s just that all of Ammaniti’s previous novels have been translated by the hugely competent Jonathan Hunt, who’s translations I adore, and I fear that this change of translator will create a difference voice for Ammaniti, and that it’s going to be a voice that I don’t like.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating of course, and it would be very short-sighted of me to discount a novel just because of a change of translator. This isn’t something that I would ever do anyway – especially when it comes to Niccolò Ammaniti – and who knows, Doust might just makes Ammaniti sound even better. I’m hopeful.
Well, I’ve held off on reading Me and You for long enough while writing these forethoughts, and it’s time to get stuck in. I know via my fellow reviewing friend, Kimbofo that Me and You is not a long read (around a couple of hours), so aside from not interrupting my Independent Foreign Fiction reading too much, I should be back pretty sharpish to offer my final opinion on Ammaniti’s latest offering. And I promise you from the outset dear reader, that although I may be starstruck, my opinion is never blinded.
Meantime, I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read anything from Niccolò Ammaniti and been as equally affected. Please drop your comments below. Ciao for now.
Canongate Books | 2nd February 2012 | £10.00 | HARDBACK | 160 PP | ISBN: 9780857861979
A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.
Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.