Let me just take a moment to enjoy this cover. It’s an absolute delight for a Van Gogh devotee like myself. Pushkin Press, whose covers are always a joy, have excelled themselves with this.
Ok, gratuituous book cover appreciation moment over. (Just expect to see this reappear when I’m nominating my most beautiful covers of the year.) Let’s move onto the contents.
I enjoyed Pietro Grossi’s award-winning collection of short stories Fists a couple of years ago and so was delighted to see Pushkin Press publish his first full-length novel earlier this summer. Even if I was a little dubious about a novel with billiards as its central metaphor. Italian billiards that is – a game that despite a careful explanation of the rules in a foreword by translator Howard Curtis remained unfathomable to me.
Not that it mattered in the slightest.
Dino, the protagonist, is a strange fish. Even as a young boy he has lived in the billiard halls, dreaming of being taught by the hall’s owner. Even daring to ask the great man outright. Come back when you can get the ball to return to the same place everytime, he is told. And so for years he plays alone, repeating the same shot over and over again. Obsessive, never realising he had been set an impossible task. When he does, he is much older though whether he is any the wiser is a point to be debated.
Life for a number of years had been static. His employment was secure and his long-suffering wife prepared to spend her life at home while he is practicing. (Let’s not wonder how he ever came away from the billiard tables long enough to meet and woo her.) Yet this is set to change. When his wife becomes pregnant, all the old certainities of his existence begin to topple and he is challenged as never before.
He meets these challenges with a curious blend of characteristics. Like one of the secondary characters I wondered if this strange person … was a genius or completely stupid, or even crazy. There’s evidence for all three assessments.
Grossi’s prose is so stripped back and easy to read that I read this in one sitting. Yet the simplicity of the prose is belying. To what is the break of the title referring? A billiard break, the fractures that begin to appear in Italian society or the seismic shifts in his personal circumstances that ensure that, like that billiard ball, Dino’s life can never return to the same point.
The Break is on blog tour with further appearances scheduled as follows: 15.08 Telecommuter Talk, 16.08.11 Salonica, 18.08 A Work in Progress, 19.08 Womauld, 20.08 Collected Miscellany, 22.08 The Art’s Fuse, 24.08 The Front Table, 12.09 Truth Behind Lies