You heard me.   I’m not scared ….. just slightly terrified!  I have allowed myself to be persuaded to host a live author Q&A session on the fabulous World Literature Forum on January 14 2009 at 20:00 GMT!  And that despite never having a read a word by Signor Ammaniti.  Serves  me right for posting an enthusiatic something on the lines of “A recommendation from Michael Dibdin is a must read for me!”. 

 “I’m not scared”, the first Ammaniti novel to be translated into English,  won the Viareggio Award in 2001.   There’s no blurb from Dibdin on the cover of this one, but, if you’re going to start something, best start at the beginning ….

… i.e  the front cover, which reflects the scorching heat of  a southern Italian summer.  The bicycle adds the impression of carefree days spent exploring.   And that ‘s true for the protagonist, Michele Amitrano,who is passing his summer holidays wandering the fields and farms and hills of his neighbourhood, spending time with his school friends.  It’s not entirely carefree, though.  There is rivalry and bullying, the ever-shifting allegiances of childhood, and the need to look out for the pesky younger sister.  But time passes tolerably enough until one day, while exploring an abandoned house, Michele stumbles on the scene of a crime that seismically shifts his world.

Gradually an understanding emerges of what he has found and,  with it,  the undeniable involvement of most of the adult population in his 5-house community – including his parents.  How is a child to cope with the resulting conflict between love for his parents and doing what is right?  How can he reconcile his loving parents (which they undoubtedly they are) with the ruthlessness of their criminal activity?

At times the situation seems surreal and  I did wonder  whether the story was simply a dark fantasy.  The contrast between the simple language of a child and the complexity of the situation lends a parable-like  aura to the narrative.  Yet the tale is real enough with the denouement capitalising in a highly-emotive and octane-fuelled way on the tensions between parent and child that have simmered throughout most of the novel. 

Michele may not have been scared, but my heart was hammering 14 to the dozen.