BOOK REVIEW / Vittorio goes sour among the tomatoes: 'In a Glass House' - Nino Ricci: Sinclair Stevenson, 14.99 pounds

THIS is the second part in Nino Ricci's trilogy of Italian immigrant life in Canada. The narrator and central character, Vittorio Innocente, traces his life onwards from the age of seven; his mother has just died in childbirth, and he arrives to join his morbid father on a tomato farm in Ontario. Inside the farm's glass houses the crop ripens year by year, but for Vittorio, exposed as he is both before his violent family, and by them, each tiny step in growing up is an agony. One might expect Ricci to imbue this novel with the force of a peasant ballad, but In A Glass House is a tale of spiritual dispossession so complete that nothing like a song emerges from it.

Ricci describes the Italians who settle in Ontario as creating a profoundly limited social world for themselves, prejudiced against practically everybody, from Lebanese and Mexican labourers, or dumb Anglos with their funereal supper parties, to the newer immigrants from home: 'backward, thickheaded' peasants arriving from the wrong valleys.

In this atmosphere Vittorio lives a life which is shrunk tight around a competitive axis of belonging and not belonging: 'I felt a kind of rage at my exclusion, at his power to wound me when I wanted to think of myself as somehow his better,' he says of a mistrusted friend. When his victimised half-sister becomes glancingly real to him, he loses her at once: 'I had a sudden awareness of her in her unknownness, heard her footsteps behind me like my own shadow suddenly taken solid shape and become a stranger to me.'

Nor does he ever feel truly close to his father; their final attempt at communication is via a set of letters which demonstrate more than anything that they have no written language in common. Vittorio is even divided from himself, describing repeatedly, 'a hollowness at the centre of me'; a 'sourness in me'; how, 'there was nothing inside me that was true, not even the silent hate I bore'.

In A Glass House is often very poorly punctuated, with numerous sentences left drooping across commas: 'I was eighteen, had never dated a girl, made love to one.' These cumbersome refinements almost enhance the mood being created, but the mood is draining.

Though Vittorio is only seven at the start of the book, every wound that he explores from his childhood is filtered through an adult sensibility. At one high point he remarks: 'Somehow I'd missed the simplest things, the simplest possibilities, that we might somehow have shared our lives, been human, that it would have cost us so little to be simply ourselves.'

The reader wishes also, strongly, that Vittorio could simply be himself; however, the depressive recollections never reach the point where the character being described coincides with the more sophisticated describing voice. Though we may feel sympathy for someone so profoundly unfulfilled, Vittorio leaves a lugubrious impression that dominates the novel. A third instalment with no resolution might be just too much to bear.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us