Serpent's Tail £7.99 (170pp) £7.59 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Stabat Mater, By Tiziano Scarpa
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014.
Friday 14 October 2011
This curious novella (translated by Shaun Whiteside) is written in epistolary form by its 16-year-old narrator to "Lady Mother" - the faceless woman who abandoned her at birth.
Raised by nuns at the Ospedale della Pietà, a convent, orphanage and distinguished music school in Venice (at which Vivaldi served as violin teacher) she plays violin among cloistered girls whose faces are half-hidden by grilles from their enthralled church audiences.
The narrator's tone varies from intensely poetic to enraged to wistful by turns, as she talks to "Don Antonio" about music, as well as the ghost of the mother she never knew, and the snake-haired figure of death that sits by her side throughout. As it turns out, Death is the tender mother-figure of the piece.
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