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Paperback review: The Pike - Gabriele D'Annunzio, By Lucy Hughes-Hallett


Hughes-Hallett’s long-listing for the Samuel Johnson non-fiction prize is well deserved, not just because of her illumination of an extraordinarily awful yet fascinating character, but also because of the way she does it.

A non-linear approach to biography can sometimes result in a messy, confusing account, but in this instance the circularity of structure somehow gives us a more complete picture of the man. Keen to emulate his hero Byron, D’Annunzio was promiscuous, cruel, self-aggrandising, and had an eye for military endeavour: his foray into politics seems more self-serving than anything else, and Hughes-Hallett emphasises repeatedly his exhortation to others to die for the cause, especially the young. Full of contradictions, he managed to convey a simplistic, and horrific, political message.