Four old school friends have a pact: to meet up every year in the small town in Puglia they grew up in. Art, the charismatic leader of the group and creator of the pact, insists that the agreement must remain unshakable and enduring. But this year, he never shows up.
A visit to his house increases the friends' worry; Art is farming marijuana. In Southern Italy doing that kind of thing can be very dangerous. They can't go to the Carabinieri so must make enquiries of their own. This is how they come across the rumours about Art; bizarre and unbelievable rumours that he miraculously cured the local mafia boss's daughter of terminal leukaemia. And among the chaos of his house, they find a document written by Art, The Book of Hidden Things, that promises to reveal dark secrets and wonders beyond anything previously known.
Argh, I am so very sad and frustrated at my rating of this suspenseful, engrossing novel. The magic-infused surrealist story aligned perfectly with my whimsical light-fantasy mood, but alas THE MISOGYNY oozing from every page induced dramatic eye rolls, exasperated annoyance, and occasional urges to yell loudly at men (ok not all men, but at least, at Dimitri).
First, a bit about the story - which, had it been done without the abject objectification and sexualization of women, I would have immersed myself fully into, with complete joy and wonder. Four (Southern Italian) men, friends from childhood, have a 'pact' to meet on a specific day of the year in a specific place to catch up; this year, one of them, an esoteric brilliant mystic curious about all facets of the world, does not show up. Worried, his friends begin their search, which plunges them into an ethereal world bordering on the magical (filled with ominous olive groves and mysterious disappearances and fight/dance circles at campfires in deserted fields and fortune tellers and the like) - a world that is also, from a more practical lens, dangerous for its affiliation to the mafia (seems like everyone in town is either connected or pays their dues in order to be allowed to live in peace).
I would have been captivated fully had it not become clear, just several pages in, that this was "men's fiction," of the type that is grievously unaware of its own biases, that portrays women as props in a man's world. Most women who appear on the pages of "The Book of Hidden Things" are gorgeous and/or big breasted (some are even "much more than beautiful"), they live for pleasuring men (and themselves via pleasuring men and did I mention they all love to be dominated), they don't think twice about cheating on their husbands with the husbands' good friends, in their beds at home while their children are in the next room, or quite literally at their own weddings (and don't apologize for it when their husbands find out), they love to strut around naked ("she didn't have qualms about being naked... She had started sunbathing topless at eighteen. We had all seen her boobs; this wasn't the first time for me, or the tenth"). Meanwhile the men choose their professions (ie photographer) because they want to see women naked, or they concoct elaborate plans in order to meet with women (in other worlds?) who offer unlimited sex, or they wax nostalgic about times before when they had kids, whom they find boring and a drag on the possibilities for excitement in their lives.
(*note: I'm all for women choosing domination or sex or being naked or even sex outside marriage if they so choose but I'm NOT for men making these decisions for them. So this is a perfect example of a scenario in which the author's identity matters: had a woman written all the above, and had the book been written from the pov of women, I'd be game).
I began gagging a few pages in, when "the Beauties" are introduced: "Carolina was one of the Beauties.. I once managed to get one of the beauties naked for my camera, but that's as far as any of us went, until many years later when Art came back to town and started banging Carolina. I have not seen her in maybe ten years, which suits me fine. Her voice had always grated on me." Oh, those pesky women with their grating voices... This from a man who also writes, about his job as a photographer: "I'm aroused. That happens often while I work. My love for boobs, and bums, and legs, has never waned. Beauty is not something you get accustomed to, and no beauty in the universe is a match for a naked woman's. I say this with no shame or guilt"... And then, bang, I'm toppled by this unadulterated misunderstanding of women: "nothing in this world is as erotic as the wetness of a woman; it means she likes you, that you are worthy of her." UM, No?
To be fair, there are two women who are not portrayed thusly, one fitting the old hag-like crazy fortune teller stereotype, and another, the sister of one of the four men, who is given a bit more power and autonomy outside of her sex. And, to an extent, the men do realize they are driven by their teenage sexual urges long past the time when they should learn to use their brains and not capitulate to the dictates of their dicks, and the one with kids does come to a realization that his daughters are not a net negative for his life. But I wasn't fully convinced of the sincerity of these transformations, nor of Dimitri's awareness of the extent of the immaturity of the worldview that permeates most of the book.
If I had to guess about Dimitri's personality, I'd say he reminds me of the 'old world' European (especially Latin/Eastern European origin) men, who truly and honestly don't see the bias and sexism imbibing their perspective, ie they will NOT apologize that they understand beauty, for example, as centered around a woman's naked body. I grew up in Romania around pretty rampant and blatant misogyny that was not always seen as such from within that context, but became obviously clear once I immigrated to the US, and now that I am observing or reminiscing about these scenarios from a distance, and/or observing her compatriot men in this new environment. Anyways, THAT type of worldview is what this book brought back for me, and it was anything but magical, ruining the mystical-magical-realist aura of the storyline.
Usually I'd give misogyny zero stars, but I'm capitulating to two not because I did actually love the premise and story (would still get zero for misogyny), but because Dimitri did attempt, albeit clumsily and unconvincingly, to admit that this worldview is flawed and that potentially more holistic and mature possibilities exist.
In general, I find that a good book usually elicits one of two responses from me: 1) bury my nose in its pages and not come up for air until I’m done, or 2) draw out the experience as long as I can, sipping it like a fine wine in order to properly savor all the flavors and textures the story has to offer. The Book of Hidden Things definitely fell into the latter category, which happens far less often, so for this reason, I already had a feeling it was special. I’m also amazed this was Italian fantasy author Francesco Dimitri’s first novel in English. The ability to write well in a language that isn’t one’s native tongue has always been impressive to me, but the beautiful and lyrical prose in this novel left me further in awe.
The Book of Hidden Things is a story about four childhood friends from a small seaside town called Casalfranco in southern Italy. After high school, they all left home to pursue their individual dreams. Fabio, who grew up with his gruff and overbearing father after his mother died, went on to start a career as a fashion photographer in London. Mauro went to law school in Milan, married his longtime girlfriend, and started a family. Tony moved to Rome, where he eventually came out as gay to his family and friends, and became a very successful surgeon. And Art, the most eccentric and free-spirited of them all, traveled all around the continent doing odd jobs before returning to Casalfranco, where he unexpectedly and uncharacteristically decided to settle after the death of his parents. Art has always been the unpredictable one, bouncing around from one obsession to the next. To his credit though, he was also the one who came up with the Pact—a promise that no matter what, the four friends will meet up in their hometown at the same place at the same time on the same date every year.
Except this year, Art doesn’t show. Concerned, the three others go around town, checking his house and asking people about their friend, only to find that Art has seemingly vanished into thin air. Worse, it appears he had been involved in some very dangerous activities just before his disappearance, like having an affair with a married woman, and growing and selling marijuana in an area where that kind of thing is heavily controlled by the local mafia. This unfortunately rules out going to the Carabinieri for help. Instead, Tony, Mauro, and Fabio take it upon themselves to carry out the investigation, discovering that Art had been in the middle of writing a book before he went missing. Whatever Art has gotten mixed up in, the answer seems to lie in untangling the strange kinds of research he has been doing for this secret project, a mysterious field guide called “The Book of Hidden Things.”
Despite Francesco Dimitri’s reputation as a fantasy novelist, this one was surprisingly light on the fantastical elements. And yet, I felt the magic on every page. Much of this can be attributed to the setting, which the author brings to life in heady, exquisite detail. To the characters who were born and raised in this quiet seaside town, life may have felt like a stifling and oppressive dead end, but everything from the epic summer storms and the hidden olive groves felt enchanting to me as an outsider. They say small towns hold big secrets, and this is no less true for bucolic little Italian village like Casalfranco. But while it may have its share of problems, like corruption and insularity, it is also a place of so much beauty and culture. Often, the narrative paints it as a land that time forgot, where the people are superstitious and traditional to a fault, or how no matter how many upgrades are made to the town, the place still looks as though it’s three decades out of date. But all this simply added to the charm and bewitching quality of the setting, which helped make this particular story all the more effective.
Speaking of which, I find myself at a loss as to how to describe the story, since it doesn’t quite fit neatly into any one category. It’s a mix of drama, mystery, and a bit of psychological suspense. There is also just a hint of the supernatural, just vague enough to make you wonder what’s real and what’s not. At the end of the day, The Book of Hidden Things drew me in completely and irrevocably with its enigmatic appeal.
That said, I don’t think this book would be for everyone. For one thing, while I found the characters fascinating and very well written, many of them are highly unlikeable. However, I also believe much of this is by design. Quite honestly, if you came out of this book without hating at least some of the characters, then the author would have done something wrong. This is a story about some seriously messed up people. A lot of them do terrible, deceitful, repugnant things. Quite a few of these characters can also be described as entitled hypocrites who act like more like whiny ungrateful children than the adults they are supposed to be, and Art himself is a megalomaniacal, manipulative man-child who does his own thing with no regard for the people he hurts along the way. Family ties, friendships, and seemingly unbreakable bonds are severely tested, and there’s no telling whether any of them will come out intact.
Another thing to be aware of is animal cruelty. I know plenty of folks who can read horror and dark fiction about torture, death, and all kinds of despicable things perpetrated on human beings, but they simply cannot abide a story when any sort of harm or abuse is committed on an animal. If this describes you, I would stay far, far away from this book as it will be very upsetting. Speaking as someone who has a pretty strong stomach for anything as long as it’s fiction, even I found certain scenes in here to be quite disturbing.
And finally, if you prefer stories with neat and tidy endings, the last line will make you fly into a rage. I won’t lie, this isn’t really a book that will provide the reader with all the answers, but if you happen to enjoy a bit of ambiguity, you will appreciate how the narrative continues to maintain its air of mystery and “what if?”
In sum, I found myself utterly captivated by The Book of Hidden Things. Even though I managed to pace myself while reading this book, I still never wanted it to end. Of course, the novel was not without its flaws, but Francesco Dimitri tells a story so well, to say I was deeply invested in the plot and characters would be an understatement. I hope in the future he will decide to write in English again; I would love to read more of his work.
The Book of Hidden Things is Italian fantasy author Francesco Dimitri's first English novel. Wikipedia describes his writing as New Weird, urban fantasy, steampunk, horror. The Book of Hidden Things is, certainly, unlike anything I've read before. Part mystery, part psychological thriller, part fantasy, it's an entirely engrossing read. It is not just absorbing - it absorbs. As a reader, it was nearly impossible to put down. The story spins itself out in bursts, and the Southern Italian setting does a great deal to add to the spooky atmosphere; Dimitri is a master at setting a scene. It is impossible not to become attached to Fabio, Tony, and Mauro, who tell the story in alternating voices, each revealing themselves in distinct and unique voices: Fabio, the fraying photographer, Tony, morally-upright and spiritually-conflicted, and Mauro, steady but in the nascent stages of a mid-life crisis. They revolve, planetary, around their friend Art, the lynchpin of the story. He is, despite being in it only barely, the sun that casts light on our ideas of friendship, family, home, genius, sanity, which Dimitri explores with careful ambiguity throughout the novel and the interactions between the characters and their hometown. Art is not exactly a likeable character, but he is a stupendous one. I found the writing exciting - Dimitri uses lovely language, descriptive language, while still moving everything along at an appropriate pace for a literary thriller. It is hard to put the book down (as nearly 400 pages in an afternoon will testify), and the pacing has as much to do with this as the strong plot and stronger characters. Ultimately, though, while you initially dive in for the story, the mystery, you stay for Fabio, Tony, and Mauro's friendship, often fraught but still gorgeous in its flaws.
This book totally pissed me off! So f@&(;@ unrealistic! Oh yeah! Dummy me didn’t look closely at the alleged beautiful cover to notice a hung dead dog? Who the hell would do something like that let alone read about among other death. I will absolutely not read another book by the author. The author really pissed me off along with the editor and publisher. WTH were they thinking ?
Amazing. Strange and page-turning with plenty of irreverant humor and great insights regarding family, friendships, and growing up. Wonderful for readers who enjoyed The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins.
I've read books that make no sense that are better than this trash. By page 40 a woman is described as an ugly stupid slut, and I realize then, this was probably written by a man. But I'm not going to be a feminazi, this book isn't old so maybe this woman really is stupid, I think I could have forgiven him for it. 10 pages later a woman with hips, and "full breasts" (? Full??) Gets out the ocean and regularly changes her biinki under a towel to protect her modesty. It's very casual non-sexual normal thing to do and nothing she was doing, no winks, no head movement Nothing, suggests she was flirting with him. Yet the main character is staring at her the entire time, which firstly that's rude, secondly he's a sweaty mess. My eyes have never been cursed. This is a man who takes photos of models for a living. It's no wonder he broke, this a creep.
maybe art will appear and call him out on his sexism. Or maybe one of his pals will slap him. No. Not one female character is described as having chemistry with anyone, but that doesn't stop any of the mc's. If a woman's good she got those titties if not she evil. Like a Bizarre female version of cowboys with black hats are evil, white hats are good.
Not only is the writer sexist, there isn't one original thought from any of these characters about atheism. The gay character who would have the most reason for hating Christianity never even connects the two.... The occasional line "why do you play with xmen when playing a barbie would be werid" is thrown in. Thrown in as though the writer is trying to say, I know things. But this line of speach is said by a woman with-Big Tittes, and therefore she is good but not dignified a reply by her loving husband.
Also in one scene a women with large boobs is reading a book - beneath her TITTIES, and I will narrow my annoyance down into one sentence so that the author may understand: TITTIES IN THE WAY! TITTIES IN THE WAY!!
When the wife is cheating on her husband, because her husband is too busy searching for his missing friend and being a woman with big boobs SHE Has to do someone, I begin to skim read.
A man is shot. Good. But wait his friend is a doctor and suddenly he's not just any doctor - HE'S A REALLY GOOD ONE. Never in my life have I seen so many Boring Mary sues written together. I skip.
Art has reappeared. He... Dear God its worse than anything I could have possibly imagined... He was banging sweet women ghostsies with - big Big titties. Which in itself would have been fine, and hilarious had the rest of the book not been the worst sexist garbage I've ever seen.
I close the book never before have I decided to say so firmly I have finished reading a book before getting to the last page. This is it. I deserve an apology.
It is such a stretch to call this a fantasy novel- the fantasy is the hidden thing in The Book of Hidden Things, a story of mundane middle aged men and their typical issues. An ailing parent, a troubled career, a fizzling marriage. It’s a prettily written, masculine book about friendship and returning home. I didn’t enjoy it much because I’m very nosy and I like to know what’s going on, but The Book of Hidden Things is a slow burn mystery that doesn’t let you in until the very end.
“I have been avoiding a moment like this, and even as we drove this way, I hoped against hope that it wouldn’t come. But then, so many of the moments we dread do come. We pay taxes, we overdraft, we lose friends, we die. We have our hearts broken.”
I don't want to write too much about this book, as I think it'll be difficult to do without some serious spoilers, but I will say this: 1) The description waaaay undersells it. I almost didn't read it, but who am I to turn down a free ARC? 2) This ^ is probably because you won't know what this book is until finishing it- and even then, you might not. It is completely engrossing, has twists and turns you really won't expect, features characters that you might not like very much- but goddamn if you won't get invested in them, and really does stop itself from being easily categorized. And I mean that in the best way possible.
I wasn’t sure about this book from the blurb, but some trusted reviewers (e.g. Mogsy of Bibliosanctum) thought extremely highly of it, and I kept seeing it on the shelves, so when I finally spotted it at the library I thought I’d give it a go. I have to say, I’m not sold on it, but I also feel like I need to talk through my thoughts before I really decide.
So, what’s it about? It starts with the Pact: a group of four friends, who knew each other from childhood and grew up in the same Italian town, have agreed that every year they will meet again in the same place, back in their hometown, to eat pizza and talk and stay in contact, no matter what. They can’t call each other to set it up, they don’t necessarily stay in contact in the meantime, but every year, they meet there. The first point of view character is Fabio, a struggling photographer who hates his hometown, going back only to see the others. He missed the previous year out of shame for his less-than-spectacular career, and he’s not entirely sure what’s going to happen.
Two of his friends, Mauro and Tony, show up just as agreed. Mauro’s a lawyer, married with kids, and Tony has since they grew up come out, while maintaining ties to his home town and especially his sister. Art… has not turned up. Worried that this might be linked to their friend’s mysterious disappearance as a child, which had the three of them suspected of murdering him and which he never could satisfactorily explain, the three start to dig into what happened to their friend, talking to the local crime group, the police, anyone who might have information.
The book walks a line the whole time between the supernatural elements and the mental illness explanation, and it’s up to the reader really which you decide it was. The four characters are all fairly unlikeable in their own ways: one can sympathise with Fabio half the time, and then he — well, that’s probably too much of a spoiler. Mauro and Tony aren’t wonderful either, although Fabio is the most annoying. They’re all such boys, too, trying so hard to be macho. It’s realistic, but I tend to prefer likeable characters if I haven’t latched onto the plot/world, and I didn’t really latch on here.
And Art… is a whole ‘nother thing. In the words of Marvel’s Bruce Banner, speaking of Loki: “That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats, you can smell crazy on him.”
In the end, I just didn’t love it, I think. There are some amazing bits evoking the area they’re in, the food, the sense of community. And there are great bits of interaction and banter. But in the end, the whole business of walking the line between fantasy and madness-based mystery isn’t an original one, and I’m not that interested in reading about people being depicted as crazy in stereotyped ways that explain why they go and kill. (Most violence related to mental illness is against the mentally ill person, not committed by them.) Meh.
I’m torn between giving it two stars because I really didn’t feel it, and being coaxed up to three because people did love it and I can see why… but in the end, I rate based on my enjoyment.
A rapid look at the new book shelf brought this book into my hands, and I'm glad. Four friends who have met each year for 17 years in their hometown in southern, southern Italy to congratulate themselves for having gotten away to the wider world, meet again. Three only show up. Arturo does not. It is not the first time Art has disappeared. The last time he'd scarpered, the 3 teenaged friends ran away from the olive grove that Art entered and from which he did not emerge. When he showed 7 days later with a bogus story about his disappearance, the friends dismiss it as Art being Art; grateful that the police have no further interest in the boys' involvement. Now, as adults, the 3 friends undertake the hunt. Intriguing, creepy, jaw-dropping. Don't start this book if you have somewhere to go before you finish it.
In all honesty, I can't decide whether I liked that ending or not. It sorta demands more storytelling when this book is clearly complete as it is, and while I could not help but smile in satisfaction at the last word of the novel, I also felt -- in hindsight and not, crucially, at the time itself -- that it leaves things open-ended in a way that is less "here, go play with your imagination and interpret as you will" and more "teehee, there is more that I'm not telling you, too bad." Which, for a book named after the book written by one of the main characters, the charismatic and possibly insane Art, is fitting despite, and perhaps in some small part because of, how unsatisfying it can feel.
Well there, that's enough metaphysics in fiction for this review: let's talk about the plot. Four friends return to their small hometown in the south of Italy every year to catch up on old times. There's art photographer Fabio, lawyer Mauro, surgeon Tony, and Art, who lives in Casalfranco again after years of gadding about abroad. Only this year, Art doesn't show up, and the three friends' search for their missing mate sets into motion a tale that is partly fantastical, uniquely Italian and wholly mature.
See, it's been so long since I've read adult fantasy that I've almost forgotten how weirdly real it feels compared to YA. To a certain extent, it's hard to really categorize The Book Of Hidden Things as a fantasy novel, when the three friends easily concoct reasonable explanations for most of what they run into. TBoHT is primarily a book about friendship, a deep dive into the psyches of these very different men and the roads they've taken since leaving their small town beginnings. There is betrayal and violence but above all a deep and abiding bond between the four of them. TBoHT is a celebration of male friendship that also examines family ties and religion in ways that are even-handed and convincing. I was a little concerned, at the beginning, that the women in the book would be cardboard cutouts, and while they're clearly supporting characters, they are complex and strong and their own people, not merely consigned to being passive wives and sisters and girlfriends.
Shockingly, this is the author's first book in English, after establishing himself as a master of fantasy in Italian. I'm so glad Francesco Dimitri has decided to write in English, as it really allows those of us unfamiliar with his mother tongue to enjoy his writings as he intends them (no slight to translators, who do very important work, but nuance occasionally gets lost when writing from the original.) His depiction of an Italy that is at once modern, fantastic and deeply rooted in history is a joy to experience.
Oh! I should warn you: the depiction of the hanged dog on the cover is accurate to the contents of the book, so if that kind of thing bothers you, you might want to skip this.
This is definitely written by a "dude". I have a feeling that a lot more men like this book than women. Or maybe men can understand these characters better than women would, but to me the men in this story are all immature and crude, the violence is gratuitous, and I have no idea why any of the women made the choices they made.
Ok, so I did not like this book but this does not mean that no one is going to, because Dimitri writes really well. This book was too bloke-ish for me, for starters, but his writing will make up for it to other people, I'm sure.
A minor thing that I realised annoyed me half-way through the book; the way he explained the Italian terms but still used them. It confused them because I thought that these characters were talking among themselves in Italian (and with other people as they are Italian and this is set in Italy) but the fact that he gave the Italian word and then the English translation made me too aware of the artifice. I'd have prefer for him to trust the reader that we were going to get the meaning of the words by context, like fantasy books.
So to the meat of the matter, if this book had been about four women, it would have been considered the chickiest chick lit ever, and would have been a thousand times better. As it is, it was way too for blokes for me. I really couldn't stand Fabio (and because of him, Anna, Mauro's wife, and the sexy lamp - that teaches philosophy and of course is super liberated about sex and nudity - of the story). Maybe the reason that's he is not doing well as a photographer is because he gets a boner every time a model shows him a bit of ankle? Just a thought. I did laugh though at his ode to the penis, even though I'm pretty sure it was not meant to be hilarious.
I did like Mauro (even though I do think he should have divorced Anna. If Anna had been a guy and Mauro a woman, I would have told Mauro to run fast and far), and Tony; I thought that despite everything, they were very good friends to their friends.
Also I see what he tried to do at the end but I have just read books that haven't tried so hard and did it better. I feel mostly that his book was too rooted into reality for it to be believable. Also it felt almost lazy.
I have no idea what to say about this book. Well nearly no idea.
We should start off with did I like the book? Yeah, you could say I did. Was it perfect? No. But that didn’t make it less enjoyable.
This crossed genres of crime, fantasy and good-old-fashioned mystery. It was sold to me as a fantasy book and I just tell you all, it isn’t. Yes it has some fantastical elements and you do have to suspend belief throughout but I wouldn’t say it was fantasy.
The writing was easy to follow. However, I did not like how the first person kept changing and you had to distinguish between the three characters constantly. That was hard.
I did like this book. I found myself questioning everything and I love that in a book. It wasn’t my favourite as it was just too weird, even for me.
I would recommend this book to lovers of mysteries with a fantasy element.
This book frustrated me until no end. I don’t know why this is considered fantasy. It’s a mystery drama about 4 friends. There’s nothing fantasy about it, just hypothetical talks about it. Too much was left blank for me to enjoy it. I just feel misled.
The book was too graphic and disturbing in places. I thought of quitting a few times. However, the story line was intriguing enough for me to want to see it to the end. The end turned into one of those twists that you expect from a short story, which made me want to yell, "hey, no fair."
“The Pact,” an agreement between four long time friends; Art, Tony, Mauro and Fabio, to meet every year, same time, same place in Southern Italy. This year, Art, does not show up or answers his phone, which causes the trio to question his whereabouts and begin a search. Art has always been odd and had an experience earlier in life where he went missing for seven days. The town and the three friends all searched for him with no clues and were giving up on finding him. When he miraculously shows back up, he would/could not explain what had happened to him.
These four friends go way back together and look out for each other. They are loyal to a certain degree and would do anything for each other, again, to a certain degree. This will all soon be tested.
Their search and investigation for the missing Art reveals a lot of dead ends, mysteries. Most of these make no sense, but then they sorta do. We are taken on a rollicking ride by these four, plus a host of other characters (sketchy ones and familial ones) who have known Art or get involved now trying to locate him. Through the story, you can’t help but think who is this guy and what the hell is he up to? His actions and his life are so madly unbalanced and eccentric you wonder if he’s all there upstairs. He always was kind of a weird bird. But these three friends were so close to him, they agreed they were going to try and find him, no matter what. It is a result of “The Pact.”
At the beginning, I was just starting to get to know the characters and was not entirely tuned in, but as the story went on, more aspects of their personalities came through and developed and I was fully invested in them, except for Art. The story is kinda crazy but sometimes in a fun way and these guys get themselves in loads of trouble, pretty much all because of Art.
Art had written a journal/book called “The Book of Hidden Things - A Field Guide,” which could be called fantasy/supernatural feelings and visions which he strongly believes in and says this came from his “abduction” when he was gone for seven days. It was interesting reading that part of his journal that was set within the pages of this original book. It was a window into the thoughts of his twisted mind.
Hold on as this story and these characters take you for an up and down ride and all hell breaks loose at the end. Who/what to believe? Is there truly something beyond; the hidden things? If so, you have to give yourself up to it with a sacrifice even bigger than yourself. Is this possibly the rantings of a madman...or not?
I’ve had this book on and off my TBR list several times. I could not make up my mind if I even was interested in reading this, based on how some of the reviews/descriptions were written.
ANIMAL ALERT: there is a dead dog hanging from a tree (and is depicted on the cover illustration) and the sacrifice of a kitten in this story. ☹️
Francesco Dimitri is an Italian author who has written several books in his native language and has now done a superb job of writing a fantasy novel in a foreign tongue — English. The Book of Hidden Things is his debut English novel that he translated himself. It’s about four friends — Fabio, Tony, Mauro, and Art — who made a pact at the end of high school to return to the same spot in their home town in Puglia, Italy, every year on the same date. But this time, Art, who instigated the pact, does not show up.
The three friends become worried and search for Art, which increases their worries because they are told Art has changed, he had started to grow weed which is dangerous to do in their town, and had begun to act strangely, talking to his dog and apparently working on a book called The Book of Hidden Things. The friends are also strongly reminded of a time in their teen years when Art mysteriously disappeared one night in an ancient olive grove for seven days and just as mysteriously showed up again. But the more they search, the stranger the rumors become until they realize that finding Art might be more dangerous than they thought.
This was such a good read! I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, especially considering that the story wasn’t what I expected it to be. I expected something more fantastical than what was presented. I didn’t expect the story to be grounded in our real world or to be a contemporary of our time. I didn’t expect the mystery and suspense that kept me so hooked that I completed the book in just 3 days, and I didn’t expect it to become a favorite. But I’m glad for these pleasant surprises that made my reading experience with this book a great one.
I liked the story for a variety of reasons, the foremost being its prose. I’m a sucker for descriptive writing that transports you as you read. I was so caught up in this story and so convinced of its setting and atmosphere that my surroundings melted away as I read. I could feel the heat of Casalfranco with its bright, blazing sun that’s so intense that it sharply outlines the objects that dot the landscape. I could feel the hot breath of Sirocco — Suicide Sirocco — that hot, muggy wind that blows in from the sea to stir up bad thoughts, and I yearned to see one of the infamous thunderstorms that roll in after it. That part about the boys swimming in the sea in the middle of a thunderstorm was enthralling! (But I’d never do crazy shit like that.) I was convinced of the winters that make you wish you were dead and that carries with it a psychopathic wind that torture you, and I could imagine that eerie, silent olive grove that has a strong sense of presence that I could feel through the book. This transportive power of the story is the main reason why I like this book so much. (And the FOOD!! So much food. Don’t get me started on the food. I need to visit Italy for some food.)
The story itself is quite interesting and when done, I had to mull it over for a couple days because I didn’t know what to make of it. The end is open-ended. Ultimately, the reader must decide what had happened and if the friends’ search led to realizing something fantastical or proving that a man is mentally deranged. I usually don’t like this sort of ending and would get angry at the story, especially, as in this case, how abrupt the end feels. But luckily, I was forewarned in Mogsy’s review of it. That helped to ease the sharpness of the end so instead of being upset, I was left pensive, wondering what to believe and what I make of the book overall. Mostly, my thoughts were about whether or not I would classify this book as fantasy.
This story balances on a thin edge. The fantasy in it is light, almost nonexistent, and it’s up to the reader to decide if the fantastical is present. I loved that about it. For me, it’s fantasy and the mention of the fantastical bits are real but many of the characters don’t believe in it or refuse to see it. Believing this is made even harder by the fact that only the most unreliable narrators/characters claim to have experienced the fantastical. It’s so twisty. (The damn book fucks with your mind! Thanks Francesco Dimitri.) However, I also consider the book as literary fiction. To me, literary fiction isn’t exactly a genre since a book in any genre can be considered literary; but I think some readers will miss out on this amazing book because they’ll never venture into the fantasy section to discover it. So for me, this is a literary fantasy novel that everyone, whether or not you like fantasy, should try.
I love how twisty the story is. Your take-away from it depends on which of the characters you want to believe and what you want to believe. The story is told from the perspective of the three friends who search for Art: the photographer, Fabio; Tony, who is a surgeon; and Mauro, a lawyer. (I have to pause here to reminisce a bit. 😊 Hmm… okay.) Thinking of the personality of these three and how well it fits their profession and how it shows in their narration, makes me chuckle a bit. Fabio is a dreamer. Tony sees possibilities. Mauro is practical. It’s also interesting that Art — charismatic, enigmatic, magnetic, and intensely intelligent — does not have such a distinguished career but has deeply influenced the path of his friends’ lives. He’s the manipulator — the puppet master. The characters aren’t likable, but not entirely unlikeable either. They have faults. They make mistakes. They cross lines (though boundaries is a big theme in this book).
Of all the narrators, I think Fabio is the most unreliable and the one who keeps the most information from the reader (or rather, he takes his own sweet time to admit anything). His is the perspective we begin with and his is the perspective that always makes me curious about what is really happening. None of the narrators know what happened to Art since his disappearance is a mystery to all three of them, but I get more answers from Tony and Mauro than Fabio. (I felt so bad for Fabio. His relationship with his dad is heartbreaking.) It’s interesting that when the fantastical stuff start happening toward the end, Fabio’s perspective is the one that stands out to me the most, probably because he claims to have almost felt the fantastical, but I debate the truth of that (with myself) because Fabio’s head is forever in the clouds and the only other people who acknowledge the fantastical are either considered crazy or are too dangerous to trust.
I could keep going, but I’ll most likely spoil something, so I’ll stop here. This one was a really good read and totally worth you picking it up. I look forward to seeing what else Dimitri will publish (in English — wish I could read Italian).
So good! I urge you to read it too.
Quotes from the book:
• “Death is a progressive shrinking that brings you from vastness to nothingness.” • “Winter in Salento makes you wish you were dead, with everything turning cold and bitter and even more hostile than usual. The wind, in particular, behaves like a psychopath. It bites and lashes at you, and when it blows from the sea, it crushes you with the stink of dead fish and a dampness that weighs you down like clothing when you are drowning.”
The flow of the story was amazing. I felt myself dragged along the pages with the guys, from one realisation to the next one, not sure which one of them was more messed up. Tony, Fabio, Mauro and Art are all flawed in their own way and being along for the ride when some of the eye-openers hit or the blindfolds are ripped away was intense.
I didn't care much for Art and the last few chapters of the book, where Art and his ramblings are concerned, were a bit out there and not too much to my taste - one of the reasons why I'm not all too fond of Magical Realism. He was pretty much an asshole his whole life but was very good at spinning things in his favour and having is friends look up to him. I definitely did not like Art.
All in all, I enjoyed this though. Quite a lot even. Art and his writing aside, the friends' journey was a great read, because they felt real, they felt human, with mistakes, ridiculous opinions, sex-on-their-brain-24/7, disappointment, and the perpetual question what the f**k they're doing with their lives.
Rispetto ai libri precedenti di Dimitri, questo suo esordio letterario inglese è più sottile, più misterioso e con meno magia, quantomeno visibile.
Il libro comincia in un paesino vicino a Portodimare (la località nel Salento dove cominciava già L'età sottile) con tre amici che si ritrovano in una pizzeria. Lo fanno ogni anno, tenendo fede a un Patto stretto in gioventù, prima di sparpagliarsi per l'Italia e per il mondo, in fuga dal luogo in cui erano nati e cresciuti.
Fabio vive a Londra ed è un fotografo, odia questa città e ne è fuggito. Tony è un chirurgo diventato molto famoso, e torna spesso a trovare i genitori e la sorella. Mauro è un avvocato di grido a Milano, sposato e con figli, e la sua casa di famiglia ormai è diventata una casa delle vacanze. E poi c'è Art. Geniale fino all'eccesso, di un livello diverso da quello di chiunque altro, capace di tutto. Capace di ottenere una borsa di studio per l'America e di stracciarla per girare l'Europa passando da un lavoro all'altro, seguendo interessi estemporanei.
Quattro amici che si vedono una volta all'anno, con pochi altri contatti durante il resto del tempo, come spesso accade a chi è cresciuto insieme ma è stato poi allontanato dalle strade prese rispettivamente, col passare del tempo.
Solo che, questa volta, Art manca all'appuntamento. E' l'unico a vivere in città, al momento, e il Patto era stata una sua idea. Gli amici, incuriositi, lo vanno a cercare e trovano casa sua con le porte aperte e disabitata. Libri ovunque, indizi spaventosi sparsi intorno all'abitazione, e una domanda che divora i tre: che è successo ad Artie? E dov'è finito?
Sarà vivo o sarà morto? Dov'è finito, o in cosa si è ficcato? Com'è legata questa sparizione con la settimana durante la quale Art, una ventina di anni prima, era sparito nel nulla una notte d'inverno, quando era uscito con gli amici per guardare la luna? E cosa c'entrano la Sacra Corona Unita, una certa "Madama" e un testo che stava scrivendo, il "Libro delle Cose Nascoste"?
L'inizio del libro è molto buono, fa entrare subito in atmosfera e anche la scelta di alternare i punti di vista dei tre amici è ben riuscita. Però man mano che il testo procede e si resta ancorati alla realtà del sud Italia, delle sue tradizioni e dei malcostumi che Dimitri e i tre protagonisti denunciano, mi è nata un po' di irritazione. Più ci si avvicinava alla fine, meno tempo restava al libro, e più mi scoprivo innervosito.
Dov'è la Magia? La Meraviglia? Chiaro, raramente viene mostrata da Dimitri la Magia in funzione (nell'ultimo libro, solo a livello di piano astrale viene mostrato qualcosa, mentre a livello pratico chi chiede una dimostrazione viene allontanato con motivazioni simili a quelle addotte in questo libro), ma qui si va oltre e ogni volta che si pensa possa succedere qualcosa si rimane spiazzati e delusi, si crea dell'hype solo per poi spegnerlo. In noi e nel trio, soprattutto in Fabio.
Chiaramente una scelta voluta e ben ponderata, però il risultato mi ha lasciato non poco amaro in bocca. Non bastano le righe finali per ribaltare l'effetto prodotto dalla storia. Probabilmente influisce nel mio giudizio il mio aver letto gli altri suoi libri, e il mio attendermi cose sempre migliori da Dimitri. E probabilmente ha anche influito il fatto che questo libro sia stato scritto in inglese, ma essendo così farcito di termini prettamente italiani (e delle loro spiegazioni per il pubblico anglofono) per buona parte del testo mi ha fatto un'impressione molto strana, come di qualcosa di sperimentale, di "strano", con lo stile cui ero abituato traslato in inglese (anzi no, non traslato, "reso" in inglese).
In definitiva il libro mi è piaciuto, non si può negare, altrimenti non lo avrei divorato. Ma mi ha lasciato insoddisfatto, troppa Carne e troppo poco Incanto. E con Dimitri sono esigentissimo, temo. Comunque nota di merito per aver scelto un altro aspetto ancora della magia, dopo sciamani e divinità, creature mitologiche e maghi. Di certo si sta creando un quadro molto pittoresco e interessante.
I picked up this book at the library on impulse while avoiding the heat during a power outage in the library air conditioning, so I had absolutely zero expectations going into this. Under those circumstances, it's possible I've rated this a little higher than I should have. Still, I burned through it in a day as I waited for my power to come back on, and I liked it a lot.
A lot of the urban fantasy and magical realism elements of this book (all the way down to the name!) remind me of Moira Fowley-Doyle's Spellbook of the Lost and Found if it was about adult Southern Italian men instead of teenaged Irish girls. Unfortunately, I do think Fowley-Doyle does it just a little bit better, so that was always kind of at the back of my mind while reading this.
It's a very easily readable book, which is especially impressive given that it was written in the author's second language. I really enjoyed the snatches of Italian and Salento dialect, and this definitely has a strong sense of place that stands out. I might be wrong, but I think magical realism in prose originates from Italian short fiction writers, so it's cool to see Demitri incorporate some of those elements into a more commercial novel.
There definitely is... ahem, what you get when male writers aren't quite sure how to write women characters, but it's not anywhere near the worst of what I've seen, and there are still some cool female characters. It was bearable for me, but let's just say you might want stay away from this book if too many boob descriptions aren't your cup of tea.
This is the kind of book where you're never quite sure where the boundary between real life and fantasy is. It will keep you guessing until literally the last page, and that's what sold this book to me ultimately. I almost wish there had been more clarity to the ending, but it's also pretty gutsy to do it the way Demitri did, and I respect that. This is definitely an interesting book, and since I picked it up on impulse, I think it was worthwhile.
CW: violence and murder of animals, brief mentions of rape and pedophilia, blatant homophobia (challenged), use of the f-slur (kind of challenged), casual misogyny (sometimes challenged, sometimes not), cheating
Oh boy, where do we start? Partiamo col dire che non avrei mai pensato di dare (di nuovo) a un libro una stella , soprattutto quando il libro in questione è scritto dallo stesso autore di un libro che invece mi era piaciuto tantissimo, ovvero Pan . Partiamo dagli assunti di base e dai problemi che avevo già ritrovato nel suo precedente romanzo: Dimitri, per quanto chiaramente si consideri un uomo progressista e femminista, ha un chiaro problema di male gaze . La cosa peggiore di tutto ciò è che, secondo me, non ne è cosciente, altrimenti non si spiegherebbe lo strano alternarsi (in entrambi i suoi romanzi) di momenti di empowerment femminile (o supposto tale) a scene “da caserma” in cui gli uomini si danno pacche sulla schiena facendo battute sulle tipe bone che si sono bombati. Il problema è che, mentre in Pan questo secondo tipo di scene passava in secondo piano rispetto ad una trama a mio parere folle ed originalissima, qui invece ricompare prepotente tutte le volte in cui i protagonisti si interfacciano con qualsivoglia personaggio femminile. Praticamente se non hai un culo da paura o sei la mamma/sorella di uno dei protagonisti non meriti di essere citata fra le pagine di questo capolavoro della letteratura contemporanea. Ma andiamo con ordine. 1) l’italiano usato a caso: questo è un romanzo scritto da un autore italiano, ambientato in Puglia, ma chiaramente diretto ad un pubblico unicamente brit. L’autore finisce quindi ad utilizzare parole italiane piè sospinto, per dare al libro quel pizzico di “etnico” che agli anglofoni piace così tanto. La cosa ridicola è che i termini, per quanto corretti (e ce’ mancass’), vengono tradotti o utilizzati in italiano senza un minimo criterio: ne è indicativo il fatto che, dopo aver utilizzato termini italiani per descrivere praticamente qualsiasi cosa (sia mai ci si scordi che siamo in Italia), la “gelateria” viene definita “ gelato parlour”; al contempo, però, l’autore non si degna mai di spiegare cosa sia un “trullo”, cosa che invece, avrebbe avuto senso descrivere, visto che sicuramente i poveri britannici non hanno la minima idea di cosa sia. Perché? Boh. La cosa più brutta di questo continuo utilizzo di termini italiani è che vengono comunque tradotti nella riga successiva, come se i personaggi stessero interloquendo con il lettore e dovessero spiegarti di cosa stanno parlando, anche in contesti in cui questo tipo di intermezzo spezza totalmente il ritmo della narrazione e, se devo proprio essere rompi balle fino in fondo, il patto narrativo fra scrittore e lettore. Trovo sinceramente ridicolo ed inverosimile che una persona scriva per intero, nel proprio diario personale , la ricetta della pasta alla poverella (??) mentre sta parlando di tutt’altro! A proposito di ricette… 2) il cibo : Si perdono pagine e pagine a dire che questi tizi vanno al ristorante, cosa mangiano, come si cucina (vengono elencati gli ingredienti di ogni piatto, letteralmente), quanto è buono il cibo etc. Roba che ti sembra di star leggendo un menù di una trappola per turisti o, come l’ha brillantemente descritta un mio amico “this is like the italian stereotype version of when nelle fyccine brutte si descrivono i vestiti per 2 paragrafi” (CIT.). Il mio pensiero a riguardo è: ok bro, I get it, hai nostalgia dell'Italia, ma è tipo SCOMPARSO UN UOMO chi cazzo se ne frega del soutè di cozze?! 3) Misoginia e pov poco chiari : questo libro è intriso di misoginia. Roba così in your face non avevo il piacere di leggerla da anni; soprattutto non in un libro pubblicato nel 2018, mentre la maggior parte degli esempi simili di cui ho memoria si trovano in libri scritti massimo massimo negli anni ’90. È assurdo perché la cosa sembra essere ancora più marcata che in Pan , pubblicato nel 2008. Insomma, caro Dimitri, che è successo in questi anni? C’è stata una regressione, invece che un’evoluzione? Il problema di fondo è che, anche dopo aver finito il libro, non riesco a capire se l’autore abbia marcato volutamente la cosa nei capitoli scritti dal punto di vista di certi personaggi, oppure pensi effettivamente le stesse cose dei suoi protagonisti. È oggettivo che i commenti più sessisti e volgari vengono fatti sempre e solo da uno dei tre protagonisti (Fabio), ma è altrettanto oggettivo che in questo libro l’agency dei personaggi femminili sia minimo: le donne compaiono solo come personaggi secondari, venendo definite prima di tutto dalla loro bellezza (con frasi del tipo “era ancora bella nonostante la cellulite”… ma davvero?) e dal loro status familiare (moglie, madre, figlia di…) prima che come personaggi attivi. Solo verso la fine della narrazione due di loro mostreranno qualche sprazzo di autonomia, e solo per dimostrarsi delle stronze colossali (per essere chiari, io adoro i personaggi femminili stronzi, ma nei casi in cui la loro caratterizzazione vada oltre il “stronza col fisico da paura”, non è che chieda tanto, eh). Per di più, la scelta narrativa di raccontare la storia dai punti di vista alternati dei tre protagonisti, tutti scritti in prima persona ha reso ancora più difficile capire chi di loro pensasse certe cose. Alle volte, quando mi scordavo chi stesse parlando in quel capitolo (che già di per sé è grave), riuscivo a riconoscere se era il POV di Fabio o meno solo dal modo in cui venivano oggettivizzate e sessualizzate le donne (non scherzo). Ma sapete qual è la parte peggiore di tutte? Che l’ultimo 20% del libro mi è pure piaciuto! In quest’ultima parte si gioca benissimo sull’incertezza di star effettivamente assistendo a degli eventi magici oppure ai deliri di un branco di pazzi, toccando i temi dell’amicizia, della lealtà e del tradimento (temi di cui mi piace sempre leggere), il tutto supportato da dei buoni colpi di scena. La storia, poi, si conclude con un finale aperto che funziona . Tutte queste cose non fanno altro che confermarmi che Dimitri sa scrivere, quando vuole, e allora, sinceramente, MACHECCAZZO!?
“I grew up. And learnt that devils, and ghouls, and all the things that go bump in the night, are excuses we make up to tell ourselves that there is something worse than us, something darker than human beings.”
I was not expecting to devour this book as quickly as I did.
Dimitri has one of the most interesting writing styles I’ve ever read, along with one of the most interesting genres. I say interesting simply for the fact that I don’t think I could place this book in one concrete genre. It’s magical, with hints of fantasy, but also completely contemporary, where we go through the lives of four men, wishing that they weren’t greying with time.
Right up until the end of the book, I was trying to guess what is going on in actuality throughout. What is real and what isn’t. I would love to know if Dimitri had a plan set out for these characters all along, or if he is just as in the dark about his own characters’ experiences with the hidden things.
There’s a lot about this book that I can see can cause debate, and result in people not liking it. But this is an incredible read. It perfectly balances the beautiful sunny land of Italy with the brutality of reality and mans desperate search for something more than the mundane every day. The pace of it is perfect, the characters are fascinating, and the ending... left me smiling.
Four friends have a Pact to meet up every year at a restaurant in their hometown. They reluctantly come, but are drawn by the power of Art, the unspoken leader of the group. But this year, Art doesn't show up. And while the three try to find him, they hear whispers of him healing a girl of Leukemia, torturing dogs, and getting involved with the Italian mob. And of course, we get flashbacks to them as young boys and learn that Art has started his mysterious ways long ago.
This book shifted the point of view throughout the book, going from one friend to the other. I liked this because I feel like staying with one would have made the story dry. None of the guys are particularly likeable or hateable. They were just guys. So by switching it up, you get some variety.
But the book was very opaque and that is not something that I enjoy. There were questions and hints of spiritualism but all very elusive. I felt that the ending was very unsatisfactory. I think it was designed to leave you with a cliffhanger. Sometimes that is good, but with this book, I didn't like it. I don't want a sequel and I will be happy to never see this one again.
Dark, and unsatisfying. I got stuck about 1/3 of the way and kept slogging to find out what the hell happens, but I'm not sure it was worth it. I enjoy reading books by authors from other countries, but this one is a no.
It's still super unclear what happened when Art disappeared as a teen and if he really has 'other abilities', and that was the mystery I stuck around for. The characters were quite self absorbed even while ostensibly looking for their friend, and I didn't much like any of them. Some even 'sounded' interchangeable. They didn't seem to evolve at all.