I always look forward to a novel by Andrea Camilleri. His Mediterranean sense of lightness, of the quirky fun of a life lived well is very hard to find in literature.
This novel has everything I’d expect, being situated in the Crime Fiction Landscape. But then, being a Camilleri novel, everything is different. It starts with a cut-up body, moves on to a missing husband, and then comes the Mafia. Upon finishing it, I was left with a vision of the sun, sea, nasty crimes, beautiful women, and pasta with sea urchins, which is pretty much what I remember from all of his novels. But what’s important is not the plot. What really matters is what happens on the sidelines.
His novels are also full of the harsher and hard light of the dry Sicilian heat. As we read his novels we sweat along with them. There are very few writers with this sense of place, bringing Sicily to life in small snapshots.
The only other Crime Fiction writers that would seem his equal in this aspect are Ian Rankin with his urban Edinburgh, Henning Mankell with his Ystad in Sweden and Derek Raymond’s with his compelling novels of London.
Camilleri is a refreshing writer. He lets us into the story at all points. His sense of place gives Sicily a distinct flavour. His revulsion with everything government-related rings true with almost everyone. His love and appreciation of women, speaks truly of all men. Camilleri delights all the senses.
Camilleri celebrates what is best in what makes us human. One of the things that I truly appreciate about Camilleri’s novels is the fact that he makes us experience the way Inspector Montalbano ages. We are able to experience all his fears and questions of life coming slowly to an end. As Montalbano experiences the close of life, he realizes that man and woman can draw on the experiences of a life lived to empower the time and experiences still left to them. All the simple pleasures of life, good food, the beauty of women are present throughout his novels.
When I think “hedonist”, Montalbano always comes to mind, ie, someone who enjoys the pleasures of food (religiously in silence), long walks and swims, good reads, better if in solitude (or with Ana by my side…).
Right at the end of the novel, Camilleri brilliantly summarizes what it means to read a Montalbano novel:
How did he Montalbano feel?
“I’m just tired”, was his bleak reply.
Some time ago he had read the title, and only the title, of an essay called:
“God is tired.” Livia had once asked him provocatively if he thought he was a God. A fourth-rate, minor God, he had thought at the time. But, as the years passed, he’d become convinced he wasn’t even a back-row god, but only the poor puppeteer of a wretched puppet theater. A puppeteer who struggled to bring off the performances as best he knew how. And for each new performance he managed to bring to a close, the struggle became greater, more wearisome. How much longer could he keep up?
Better, for now, not to think of such things. Better to sit and gaze at the sea, which, whether in Vigàta or Boccadasse, is still the sea.