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Book review: Let the Games Begin, By Niccolò Ammaniti, trans. Kylee Doust

Fame, and the fury it attracts, drive a devilish Italian tale

The title of Niccolò Ammaniti's new novel reminds us either of the opening of the Olympics, or of fantastic, but cruel, entertainment in the Coliseum of ancient Rome. The public obsession with celebrities and VIPs of dubious origins – a musician, a supermodel, a property tycoon, a rather confused writer and even a satanic sect of losers - is at the heart of this story, positioned half-way between Big Brother and the parties hosted by a disgraced Italian politician.

Ammaniti, author of I'm Not Scared and Me and You, introduces us into a fictional universe which very much resembles contemporary society – in Italy or elsewhere. Most of the story revolves around a super-party to be hosted in the chic venue of Villa Ada in Rome by Sasà Chiatti, a property tycoon who wants to show off his wealth and use it to improve his networking.

Unfortunately, the "devil" is watching: a dubious satanic sect led by the frustrated Mantos, who lives a double life. This father of twins, constantly criticised by his next-to-perfect wife, finds his happiness in pseudo-satanic rites, during which his everyday identity is forgotten thanks to theatrical costumes he wears with all the solemnity owed to his "real" master, Satan himself. He leads "The Wilde Beasts of Abaddon", composed of Zombie, Murder and Silvietta, who becomes their vestal after surviving a rite of sacrifice. Social misfits who find refuge in a virtual world, they are self-delusional and dangerous, to themselves and other people.

The sect decides to interfere with Chiatti's grand plans and turn them into a publicity stunt. Bad luck comes to this diabolically helpless lot: the sabotaged electrical system explodes; floods and mud inundate the villa and its guests. It looks like a final divine intervention, triggering real change: an unforgettable event indeed.

This is a wonderfully ironic and entertaining book, thanks to its lively cinematic dialogues and constant references to current society. We are projected into a circus of vaguely familiar events, and the finale offers hope for true social, political and personal development through radical change.

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