Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Marchesa by Simonetta Agnello Hornby (a review)

2 out of 5: The Marchesa follows the life of Costanza Safamito from premature birth to death in late-nineteenth-century Sicily. The Safamitos are wealthy landowners grappling with dramatic problems, including incest, child sexual abuse, adultery, sibling rivalry, civil revolution, and the powerful Mafia. I enjoyed seeing this testosterone-charged world from the perspective of a strong female protagonist, but, given the exotic setting and surprising plot twists, this book was surprisingly slow-moving. Hornby haphazardly introduces too many characters, many of which appear only once or twice. This is distracting and interrupts the flow of the narrative. Hornby also maintains a deadening distance between the protagonist and the reader for most of the book. I never connected with Costanza or understood her motivations. Finally, the prose is awkward in many places (although some of the landscape descriptions are very well done). This prevailing awkwardness might stem from a bad translation, but regardless of the source of the problem, it detracts from the overall effect of the book. Ultimately, I quite enjoyed the last 75 pages or so because the pace quickened and the minor characters disappeared, but if this setting and story appeal to you, I recommend The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedeusa.

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