1978, Ponte, a small community in Northern Italy: peaceful woods, discarded rubbish, a closed-down factory. An unbearably hot summer like many others, wilted flowers and trips to the waterfalls. Elia Furenti is sixteen, living in a secluded house with his parents, a life so unremarkable that even its moderate unhappiness has been accepted as normal. That is until the day the beautiful, damaged Anna returns to Ponte and firmly propels Elia to the edge of adulthood. But then everything starts to unravel. Elia’s father, Ettore, is let go from his job and loses himself in the darkest corners of his mind. A young boy is murdered, shaking the small community to its core. And a girl climbs into a van and vanishes in the deep, dark woods.
“He had been gone a long time already, but that was it – not even a year after he lost his job and that boy disappeared – that was when everything broke.”
Do you ever read a book and just do not know how you feel about it? That’s how I feel about ‘Can You Hear Me?’ There were some things I enjoyed – it’s dark, I found it gripping, I liked the small Italian town setting, the descriptions of the sultry heat make you feel beads of sweat on your brow. I liked the mystery element. Even though things aren’t really a mystery. But I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected.
This is a coming of age story and I think I’ve come to the conclusion I just don’t get on with coming of age stories. I’ve read quite a few and have never entirely enjoyed them. I also think this book was slightly too literary for me. In some sections there are no speech marks when characters talk to each other. I think this has been done as a writing tool to separate those particular sections, sections that focus on Elia’s father, but I personally hate the lack of punctuation in books. And it really puts me off.
Another positive is the look at the fragile state the human mind can end up in. Sometimes it takes just one thing to break a person’s mental state and ‘Can you hear me?’ looks at that subject. Elena Varvello deals with it believably and sensitively but after reading her authors note it’s easy to see why she has dealt with the subject so well.
This was a dark, noir read with a splash of Twin Peaks and whilst I found it gripping sadly I just couldn’t enjoy it.
BOOKISH CORNER RATING – 3/5 STARS
Elena Varvello was born in Turin, Italy in 1971. Her short story collection L’economia delle cose was nominated for the prestigious Primio Strega (the Italian equivalent of the Man Booker prize). And a short film has been based on her short story La Pistola. ‘Can you hear me?’ is her first novel to be translated into English. She lives with her husband and two children in a small village in the woods, near to her birth place.
‘Can You Hear Me?’ is published in hardback on the 13th of July by Two Roads books. With thanks to Two Roads for my copy (and the lovely Italian biscuits!)