Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Donna Leon: The Death of Faith

So amici, my first Donna Leon. I've avoided them since before the dawn of this blog due to a healthy suspicion of Americans writing books set in other countries, a suspicion fuelled by Elizabeth George and ooohhhh whatshername, I've read several of them ... Deborah Crombie, that's the one. I mean, it's bad enough set in England, in Italy it'll be terrible, I reasoned. But my other little sister nudged me on, so I thought I'd give it a go. And ok, it's not at all as bad as I'd feared. She does fall into the tourist brochure trap a fair bit, by not the worst I've read in that respect, and I can see myself reading some more of her books this summer. However, I'm not in love with Inspector Brunetti as a character. I find him and his wife and kids to be curiously bloodless and empty. This passage, about the family's mood at dinner, illustrates why:

There was none of the usual joking with which they displayed their boundless affection for one another.
If you write like that you do, at some level, think your readers are idiots. And then you can have all the untranslated Italian bits you like wedged in, it still shows. Also, apropos Italian, I'm just annoyed by the untranslation of certain terms and in particular titles. Dottore indeed. Bloody hell. It's merely pretentious! "Look at all the Italian I know!"

Anyway, the story is that Brunetti is approached by a young woman who used to be a nun and work at the nursing-home where his mother stays. Now she has left the order, and says it's because she feels something is being covered up. She asked some questions about some of the old people's deaths, and felt she was being told to keep quiet about it. Brunetti fishes for a bit but finds nothing to hold on to, but then someone tries to murder Maria the ex-nun ... There is a parallell storyline about the religious instruction at his children's school, and most importantly about the priest who takes confession there and who is clearly a paedophile. So a very up-to-date topic, really.

The author and therefore her characters are very anti-religion. As I've written somewhere before, I don't like conspiracy theories. I don't believe in them. And while I, as a Catholic, don't like Opus Dei or their take on my religion, I don't think that the organisation is worth the reams of conspiracy theories that are generated around it. I don't think that the bad and evil things that have been/are being done within the Catholic church can be ascribed to sinister plots by sinister men. I think that it's more awful, I think that most people are stupid and do stupid  and selfish things (at best), and then muddle about trying to cover them up, and then other people do the same. But it's not that organised. And this book has a lot of the classic thinking of Vatican as the big octopus with tentacles e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e. Maybe it's more true of Italy? Maybe I don't get it? But I think I do know a fair bit and have seen a fair share of the Church's bad side, and I don't believe in the conspiracy ideas. I think they're simplistic and a little silly. The truth is more complex and therefore worse.

Book oddity: reference to a "dead-hampster handshake". I seriously hope "hampster" is a typo. But on the whole I've never heard the term - bizarre!


Ing said...

Haha, critical to the last - I love it! I've never read that Donna Leon book so can't comment on your observations but I can comment on the Catholic church conspiracy theory thingy. I feel that the Catholic church here in Ireland is miles different from Sweden and I think (not sure obviously since I'm not Italian) that it's similar to the Italian Catholic church. The course I'm doing (Youth work) has taught me a lot about the major influence the church has had on all aspects of Irish life, previously you couldn't take a breath without the priest being involved in some way.

As well as that you have the sex abuse scandal here and there you can definately talk about a cover up where everybody from the Gardai to politicians helped keep a lid on things. It's actually shocking what I've read and what I've heard from people here locally about what's gone on. I don't think there's one family in Ireland (our own included) who haven't been affected in some way by clerical sex abuse.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I can see your point of view. However, as the mood here in Ireland right now is very much anti-religion and I've heard so many horrific stories about the abuse here (the sheer scale of people involved in the cover ups, from all walks of life, is mind boggling) that I can sort of see the other side too.

Maybe try another book, I think the one called "Suffer my little children" was pretty good but sure let me know what you think! According to Wikipedia Donna Leon lived in Venice for 20 years so she must have picked up something Venetian along the way :-)

Ing said...

Btw, if you're wanting to read "proper" Italian crime fiction, check out Andrea Camilleri's books. They're set in Sicily and I dare you to read one, look at a photo of the author online and then get grossed out over the sexual references :-). I don't know what it is about him but I seriously get "dirty old man" vibes from his pictures! But I do like some of his books, the whole Sicilian life seem so mad you've got to love it!

bani said...

I knooooow I get a bit riled. I do KNOW there is/was/has been what one really can't call anything but a conspiracy, but these writers make it sound so organized and professional when I think it's just been a lot of sad, stupid fuckwits fumbling about. I dunno, it just felt too simple. I'll give another one a go, definitely! But I'm not automatically hooked, and that's more to do with Brunetti as a character though.

bani said...

Oh yeah, and I'll have a look at the dirty old man, lol!