EUROPA EDITIONS, £8.99. Order (free p&p) on 08700 798 897
Margherita Dolce Vita, by Stefano Benni, trans by Anthony Shugaar
Italo Calvino meets 'The Simpsons' in a witty, pitch-black Italian satire
Wednesday 17 January 2007
Margherita is 15 and overweight (her classmates call her "Mega-Rita"), with curly blond hair "like an explosion in a fusilli factory". A bit of a poet, and with a romantic hankering for Hannibal Lecter, Margherita lives on the edge of an unnamed city with her family, a cosily shambolic bunch, cranked up a couple of magic-realist notches: dad Fausto, a meteoropath ("his moods change with the weather"), who never throws anything away; Mamma, addicted to a telenovela called Eternal Love; loutish big brother, Giacinto, and brainy little brother, Heraclitus; and storytelling Grandpa Socrates, whose life is brightened by nightly tangos with Dona Lupinda, a 200-year-old ghost. This is not to mention our heroine's super-mongrel, Sleepy, or her imaginary friend, the elusive "Dust Girl", Polverina.
Their humdrum existence is overturned by the construction next door of a sinister building made of bulletproof glass, known as the Black Cube. Beloved trees are felled, fences erected, and the night echoes with the snarls of an enormous guard dog. In due course, we meet the neighbours, the Del Bene family, who embody everything repellent to the nonconformist teenage sensibility and others besides: the frosty, snob mum, overbearing dad, empty-headed vamp daughter. They even have a butler, for God's sake.
Margherita watches in horror as her family fall under the sway of these ghastly conformists. Dad starts throwing things away, Giacinto turns from belching thug to "cashmere racist" in a bid to win the blonde daughter, Labella, and even Heraclitus is roped in as an enthusiastic tester of computer games. Margherita alone remains unmoved, until she meets the family's hidden son, the mysterious Angelo.
At this point, the book takes a darker turn. As Grandpa has suspected, and Margherita vaguely sensed, all is not quite as it seems in the Del Bene household. The tone darkens as an easy critique of materialism makes way for something much more sinister.
This plunge into blackness is too abrupt, but the journey has been fun. Margherita is a hugely engaging character, and the novel trips along in a lively jumble of jokes, puns and neologisms that must have presented a huge challenge to the translator, and to which Anthony Shugaar has risen with aplomb. Imagine an episode of The Simpsons scripted by Italo Calvino. If that sounds even vaguely appealing, then you're going to love Margherita Dolce Vita.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 3 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 4 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
- 5 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
Gaza Banksy mural sold to 'conman' for just $175
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
Top Gear live to go ahead: Jeremy Clarkson to join Richard Hammond and James May... just don't call it Top Gear
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Katie Hopkins reported to the police for race hatred by Labour MP Simon Danczuk after tweet about Pakistani men