Ryan's Reviews > That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana

That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana by Carlo Emilio Gadda
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's review
Oct 28, 2007

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bookshelves: italy

While investigating a robbery & murder (of a woman he had long admired) at an apartment building on Via Merulana, Detective Don Ciccio finds that nothing is clear-cut, and that the full story of what happened becomes more and more complicated the further he goes in.

This book is like reading a more masterful version of Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep," but as a satirical Roman novel set during the fascist period. You're never totally sure what is going on with the murder mystery, characters float in and out and build into confusion, and nothing is ever completely resolved. But it doesn't really matter. I'm trying to think of the best way to describe this, and I just found this line in the introduction by Italo Calvino (which I should have maybe read before reading the novel) that best sums it up: "Every effect is determined by multiple causes, each of which has still other, numerous causes behind it. Every event, a crime for example, is like a vortex where various streams converge, each moved by heterogenous impulses, none of which can be overlooked in the search for the truth."

The writing can get very intense, and Gadda is certainly the master of getting side-tracked. I felt like I kept checking in and out during some sections. The beginning is a little hard to get into, but then once Don Ciccio begins his initial interviews with the members of the apartment, the characterizations are hilarious. But there's other sections where he lost me - like when he literally spends 20 pages obsessing over every facet of every piece of jewelry of the victim. Don Ciccio's mind is like a tornado, and you never know where he can swirl around to even within short paragraphs, so it keeps you on your toes as a reader. This must have been a daunting translation. That said, I did still feel like I was missing a lot, purely by not reading this in the original language when it was first published in the 1950s. Gadda plays with language a lot, and there are constant cultural & political references and inside jokes. Puns and word play that just cannot be translated. The translator did his best to explain in footnotes, but I just feel like I still didn't totally appreciate it as I could have.
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