Monday, 24 September 2012

Rounding the Mark - Andrea Camilleri

Camilleri is the inspiration for aspiring writers of a certain age.  He didn't start writing seriously until he was 67 and didn't create the bestselling Inspector Montalbano until he was 69.  Now 87 he has 19 Montalbano novels and a shedload of other publications to his name.

The advantage of starting late is that your attitudes and opinions are fully developed.  Camilleri is Sicilian, left wing, a little curmudgeonly (he has a secondary career as a TV political pundit) and fond of his grub.  All those characteristics apply to his novels though not necessarily his protagonist.  Salvo Montalbano seems to have no political views, other than all politicians are crooks, and whilst he can be grouchy, he is more altruistic than misanthropic.  We know him from the TV adaptations but we should not confuse Salvo with the actor who plays him (which is odd, because Camilleri's working life was as a TV director for RAI, who now make the TV movies).  Salvo, for example, isn't bald.

The novels, of which Rounding the Mark is the seventh, originally published in Italy in 2003, are formulaic, but it is a formula of Camilleri's devising.  Like Simenon, Camilleri has created his own paradigm.  Salvo's eating regime is therefore slightly more important than his love life, albeit his love life is adventurous for a man of his age;  we know more about what he eats than about his police career; we have comic Catarella, crown prince of the malapropism; Mimi, Fazio, the commissioner who is always somewhere else and his machiavellian bag-carrier Doctor Lattes.  Montalbano stumbles through the case, solving it almost by accident.  And throughout we have a running commentary on Italian politics - wholly disparaging - as it happened while Camilleri was writing.

In Rounding the Mark Montalbano literally bumps up against the murder victim whilst swimming in the sea outside his house.  He plans to resign just as soon as the commissioner can see him but forgets all about it when a six-year-old African boy runs away from yet another boatload of illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile longterm girlfriend Livia is only a phone presence from Genoa, whilst the racy Ingrid Sjostrom is on Montalbano's doorstep looking for adventure.

The Montalbano novels are unique.  You either love them or hate them.  I enjoy wolfing them down in the same way Salvo scarfs down a strascinasali.   Rounding the Mark was as good as any.  You cannot underestimate the translation skills of American poet Stephen Sartarelli in bringing Camilerri to the wider world.

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