Canongate, £10. Order for £9 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Me and You, By Niccolò Ammaniti

 

The title of Niccolò Ammaniti's latest novel prompts expectations of yet another story of love and romance. It is something much more unusual. Me and You refers, most obviously, to the story of Lorenzo Cuni, a 14-year-old boy from Rome, and his half-sister, the 23-year-old Olimpia. Lorenzo is a bright boy with a "perfect" life. He lives in a beautiful palazzo in the wealthiest area of the Eternal City, has loving parents and attends a grammar school. But beneath this privileged veneer lie dark shadows. He has difficulties in relating to his peers; he has no friends, and this worries his parents.

Lorenzo tries to fit in by imitating his classmates. He chooses the mimetic tactic of behaving like a fly which, by camouflaging itself as a wasp, avoids their attacks. His camouflage consists of talking back to tutors, not doing his homework, making "cool" jokes and showing off with a trumped-up self-confidence. After overhearing two school companions making plans for a week at a ski resort, he resolves to lie to his parents, telling them that he has been invited. He plans to spend the whole week hiding in his cellar, with tins of sardines and tuna, his PlayStation games and science-fiction books.

An unforeseen event upsets his plans, forcing him out of his bunker for ever. Lorenzo emerges completely transformed because of the unexpected arrival of his unstable, drug-addicted and alien half-sister, Olivia, who begs for his support.

Translated by Kylee Doust, this is an original, thought-provoking and well-written piece of fiction by the author of I'm Not Scared and I'll Steal You Away. Ammaniti empathises with adolescents' problems, their rites of passage and complex relationships, often setting stories at the margins of society. The adolescent is the perfect chrysalis to explore the themes of transformation.

Ammaniti takes us on a remarkable voyage through the fear of future responsibility which awaits young people on the brink of adulthood and laces it with all the irony, self-criticism and self-indulgence familiar to that age-group. This is a powerful novel, which asks us to consider the relationships we have with our own siblings and the memories of our own adolescence.

 

 

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