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.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations
- 3 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
- 4 AirAsia flight QZ8501 missing: Search for plane carrying 162 passengers from Indonesia to Singapore suspended overnight
- 5 Game of Thrones is most-pirated TV show of 2014
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The golden age of TV comedy is here
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
From Marvel to Star Wars: The rise of cinema’s shared universes
Exodus: Gods and Kings banned in the UAE for 'religious mistakes'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk