Thursday, March 01, 2007

#15 - Don't Move

Margaret Mazzantini's critically acclaimed and prize-winning Don't Move is an apt book to have finished today, as a great snowstorm falls upon Toronto rendering the city motionless. Well, truth be told it's just the title that's fitting because the guts of the novel have little to do with either snow or Toronto...

Annnywwaaay. Told in something akin to exposition, Don't Move lets the narrator and main character, Timoteo, a successful, married surgeon tell his own story. His daughter Angela has been involved in a very serious accident while riding her scooter to school, and Timo sits and waits for her to come out of surgery. He's a cold, exacting character; and if I were being completely honest, I'd admit that I found him utterly unlikeable.

In fact, despite the obvious and real tragedy of his daugther's accident, I ended up feeling little for Timoteo past disgust as the main thrust of the novel involves a very abusive affair he has with a poor, thin, wisp of a woman named Italia. The two meet just after his car breaks down in a rural area of Italy, and their surreptitious affair begins shortly thereafter.

Including as selection from Italy on my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I felt that I got little from the story about the setting. With the exception of the time Timo and his wife Elsa spend at their summer beach house, very little of his surroundings are described in detail. With the majority of the action taking place in Timoteo's mind as he sits in a hospital waiting room, which is by its nature both cold and sterile, and uncomfortable and bland, much of the other settings take on this same atmosphere.

This is a novel that tells you everything, that leaves little to conversation, and forces the reader into the position of the dying daughter by his consistently addressing her within the story. And I really didn't like being coerced into a sympathetic position where I had to like the main character, after all, who can despise a man who is obviously in so much pain?

"Dear Angela...let me tell you about the time I cheated on your mother and ruined a poor, desperate girl's life...just because you don't have anything else to worry about as you lie there on the operating table half-dead already."

But, alas, I am paraphrasing.

On the whole, I struggled through this book, forcing myself to finish it, and wondering why Don't Move was included in the 1001 Books list. It tells it is a "multilayered novel of love, loss, and desperation, set upon the affluent backdrop of Northern Italy." Beside the write-up is a giant picture of Penelope Cruz, who starred in the, again award-winning, film adaptation.

For me, it's an intensely cold novel, and a lot of the times, I had a hard time believing the character was even a man. In places, the author uses odd metaphors that just didn't work: "A rain as fine as face powder was falling." Not that metaphors need to be gender specific or should even be so, it just felt wrong in this case, something that this man wouldn't notice and/or care to know. Anyway, it's a small point, and maybe not even a relevant one, but things like that pulled me out of the novel time and time again.

Mazzantini is obviously a talented writer, and moments of the novel are really quite brilliant, but I prefer to take my cold, calculated protagonists with a bit of redemption, which should never be confused with pure confession.

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