Street Fight in Naples, By Peter Robb
If you're heading for Sicily this autumn, Peter Robb's masterpiece Midnight in Sicily is de rigueur. If Naples and environs is your goal, you may be better off saving this extraordinary work until you get back. The muscular exuberance of Robb's style – one of the finest in contemporary English – is perfectly suited to Neapolitan brio but the central topic of this book is the art of the 16th century.
His cast includes artists like Ribera, who painted a bearded lady, Artemisia Gentileschi, whose rape by her uncle underlies a vigorously realistic depiction of Judith hacking off the head of Holofernes, and Caracciolo, whose Earthly Trinity was unforgettably influenced by Robb's hero Caravaggio. Since the book's eight small colour reproductions are of negligible value, you need Google for illustration purposes. To appreciate the linking theme of Midnight in Sicily, which is food, all you need do in Sicily is open your mouth. Though Robb focuses on Naples's unhappy spell as a colony of the skint Spanish when violence and corruption was even more prevalent than usual – the "street fight" of the title could refer to any number of grisly encounters – he reaches back to its mystical founding when the siren Parthenope expired on the rocks of Santa Lucia and forward to his spell as a long-term resident in the Seventies.
Now returned to his native Sydney, Robb is exiled from his exile. His evocative memories are strictly rationed, though a hint of gastronomic passion emerges in a description of Pignasecca market: "People on foot had to dodge not only vehicles but the tubs of fish and the squirting hoses with which he sea creatures were refreshed. Sometimes an octopus briefly slithered free among the wheels and heels."
Robb's exploration of this tumultuous city, simultaneously sun-blasted and dungeon-dark, is episodic rather than chronological. Among appearances by Cinderella, Virgil and the rebel priest Giordano Bruno, a herd of sheep drifts in and out of the latter pages. Though occasionally bemused, you keep reading, swept along by a tidal prose.
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude photos' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Frank Lampard equalises for Manchester City against Chelsea: how Twitter reacted
- 3 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 4 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned PR disaster
- 5 Britain First picture: Photographer 'horrified' after first Afghan policewoman killed by Taliban used for 'ban the burka' campaign
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, review: Revolution still seems far off
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God