THE FATALISTIC ITALIAN AUTHOR TO READ
* * * * *
Distrust is not trending. Even though we appear to be living in an age full of intensely worrisome events where would we have every right to be negative, the stories that we are drawn to, Marvel superhero movies, TV talent contests, heart-warming photo slideshows on Facebook, have a tendency to look on the cheerful side of things, to induce warm feelings with a momentary experience of hope and steadiness. How many times have we watched the world hurtle towards devastation, only for it to be saved at the last minute by the efforts of an individual? How many times will we do it again?
The ubiquity of such narratives is perhaps why, in 2018, it’s a pleasure to rediscover the work of Italian author Dino Buzzati. A journalist and novelist, best known for his 1940 book The Tartar Steppe, Buzzati did not have what you might call a glowing outlook on the universe. Quite the reverse, in fact. At least that looks to be the case judging by Catastrophe, a collection of his short stories from the mid-1960s that is being published for the first time in the US this month, allowing a wider audience to appreciate this lesser-known (but attention-worthy), author.
True to its name, Catastrophe, issued as part of Ecco’s Art Of The Story series, attracts the reader into an arrangement of nightmarish scenarios in which things, buildings, ideals, social conventions, seem to be falling apart. In “The Scala Scare”, a group of musos are trapped in the Scala opera house in Milan while they wait for a military coup to unfold outside. In “And Yet They Are Knocking At Your Door”, a matriarch obstinately sits in her family home, trying to ignore the flood that is washing it away. Like Franz Kafka before him, Mr Buzzati explores the paranoiac understanding of individuals battling against institutions, most notably in “Seven Floors”, a story about a man who, through administrative errors, gets continually moved closer to the death ward in a surreal, tiered hospital. But Mr Buzzati also has a liking for portraying the strange horrors that exist just a few steps beyond normality. In one story, a woman finds a hideous monster lurking in her attic. In another, a tourist couple is gibbeted for making a minor faux pas in a rural village.
This may all appear a little gloomy but, thanks to Mr Buzatti’s style, which races along with journalistic accuracy and clarity, there’s a healthy amount of mocking wit in these stories to counter the horror. His humour is very dark, but it’s not pitiless. We think that Buzzati did, in fact, value human beings. He subjected his characters to the horrors, the catastrophes, not out of heartlessness, but because he himself shared in those horrors and catastrophes, and felt that we all did. In other words, his prose is often clinical, but his viewpoint is not.
The author felt he was destined to die of pancreatic cancer, the same disease that took his father when he was 14 years old. This prediction, rather eerily, came true. It may partially explain the worldview that gave birth to Catastrophe. He was, at heart, a fatalist.
Though Mr Buzzatti was never much associated with a movement, you could associate him with some of the great mid to late 20th-century Italian fantasists, including Messrs Italo Calvino, Tommaso Landolfi, Luigi Malerba, Giorgio Manganelli and Gesualdo Bufalino. For fans of the above, or anyone looking for a jolt of beautiful nastiness this spring, Catastrophe comes thoroughly suggested.
Don't Be. Become.
* * * * *
A U T H O R
I M A G E
* * * * *